Australian javelin thrower Jarrod Bannister received a 20-month ban in August 2013, for failing to attend an out-of-competition test. Photo: AFP
WADA, the World Anti-Doping Authority, is a cartel. In almost all endeavours, policy makers eschew cartels because their oppressive and inefficient behaviour damages the public interest. In sports, cartels are given special privileges. WADA’s modus operandi is political coercion underpinned by unsubstantiated propaganda and backed by the might of the International Olympic Committee and, in turn, national political leaders.
National governments and sporting organisations adopt the WADA Code not because of its effectiveness, but on threat of being excluded from the Olympics. Fearing that, they meekly fall into line, trumpeting a hollow zero tolerance mantra.
The ‘‘one size fits all’’ WADA Code is based on two pillars: 1. Deterrence, backed by excessive mandatory penalties; 2. Drug testing, underpinned by the athlete being held strictly liable for what enters his or her mouth largely irrespective of the circumstances, coupled with the right of the anti-doping authorities to pretty much test athletes any time, anywhere. In any just legal system, the justifications for the violations of human rights and fundamental legal principles associated with the WADA Code must be exceptionally compelling. Normally, they are permitted when dealing with matters of national security.
A breach of the WADA Code, however, is merely a breach of a private contract between the athlete and his employer or sport.
The ineffectiveness of the WADA regime makes it clear that the justifications do not even exist from a sporting perspective.
WADA Director-General David Howman told Jacquelin Magnay in the London Telegraph on August 18, 2011 in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympics: ‘‘Statistically the numbers of people being caught is between 1 to 2 per cent, that’s the numbers of positives against the number of tests. But the number of people doping are in the double digits.’’ Where the ‘‘double digits’’ figure comes from is a secret.
Former NBA basketballer Walter Palmer is spearheading UNI Sport Pro, the newly established world athletes’ association, which brings together 80,000-plus athletes through players’ associations in football, cricket, rugby, rugby league, European sports and the major US sports including ice hockey, basketball and the National Football League. His research into the lack of transparency and the ineffectiveness of the anti-doping establishment is startling.
According to Palmer:
- There are no consistent reporting standards of anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) by national anti-doping organisations (NADOs).
- Many NADOs do not report at all.
- Of 277,928 tests conducted in 2009 based on the incomplete available data, 758 were positive (0.27per cent).
- Of 258,267 tests in 2010, 1393 were positive (0.53 per cent).
- Three out of 2216 out-of-competition tests were positive (0.13per cent).
Palmer also analysed the published results of USADA in 2013. USADA, following the Lance Armstrong revelations, is now arguably the world’s most respected NADO. In 2013, it recorded 29 ADRVs from 9197 tests (0.003 per cent). Of the 29, at least 23 were unrelated to cheating for reasons such as inadvertent use or contaminated food or supplements.
Maciej Hennenberg, of Adelaide University, released research in 2013 that showed that an annual random test of a doping athlete had a 3 per cent chance of returning a positive result. Yet, the anti-doping establishment annually charges sports $500 million to complete 250,000 tests.
Systemic cheating such as that organised by Armstrong went undetected for years. The response of the anti-doping effort was to call for even more draconian powers, rather than a review of how Armstrong’s fraud was allowed to occur given the efforts already being made in the anti-doping establishment.
When told of the formation of UNI Sport Pro and its concerns about the effectiveness of the WADA Code, the reaction of the anti-doping establishment was visceral. Then WADA chairman John Fahey told the WADA Foundation board that ‘‘giving such associations credibility and recognition would only encourage them to develop into a more prominent position’’ and ‘‘urged all members not to give them any oxygen’’. This leaves WADA free to act without regard for athletes’ rights and without being accountable to the fans.
Swedish ice hockey star Nick Backstrom was pulled from the 2014 Winter Olympics gold medal match against Canada only minutes before the face-off for testing positive because of an allergy tablet cleared by his doctor. Unexplained delays in the reporting of the test result and the convening of the hearing by the anti-doping authorities saw him miss the biggest match of his career, despite him being subsequently cleared of cheating and allowed to keep his silver medal.
In August 2013, Australian javelin thrower Jarrod Bannister received a 20-month ban for failing to attend an out-of-competition test. The only problem was this – Bannister was asleep in the hotel where he told the authorities he would be. He paid the price for being forced to share a twin room to save Athletics Australia money and the hotel being unable to simultaneously record the names of two room guests on its computer system.
Back in 2007 Socceroo Stan Lazaridis tested positive to finasteride, a drug he used with medical clearance for therapeutic reasons. It was banned as a masking agent for anabolic steroids. ASADA, Australia’s anti-doping authority, even acknowledged that Lazaridis was not a cheat and agreed to the minimum mandatory ban (a career-ending one-year suspension).
Finasteride was removed from the prohibited substance list a matter of weeks after the expiry of Lazaridis’ suspension when it was realised that the science behind its prohibition was flawed. The long-awaited review of the WADA code in 2013 once again lazily played the deterrence card, and rewarded WADA for its ineffectiveness. Mandatory penalties increased from two to four years, highlighting the dominance of the Olympic movement and the irrelevance of the WADA code to professional team sports.
WADA’s hand-picked athletes’ representatives undemocratically said this reflected the views of the athletes.
The fans and athletes of Australian sport are entitled to ask why such a flawed global system should be imposed on our sports given the ability of our sports administrators to develop tailor-made and athlete-driven anti-doping policies that will actually work.
If any penalties are to be imposed on players because of the ASADA investigations at Essendon and Cronulla, it will only be because of the rigidity of the WADA code. It is known that if any ADRVs occurred, they did so at the behest of the employing clubs which, in so doing, threatened the health, safety and legal rights of the players. The employer is the party that should be sanctioned, and this is the approach rightly taken to date by both the AFL and NRL commissions.
It would now be wrong for ASADA to impose the mandatory, inflexible, ineffective, unjust and expensive WADA system on the AFL and the NRL. This will only render untold damage to both sports and their players, and do absolutely nothing to enhance the effectiveness of the anti-doping regime.
Hopefully, common sense will soon prevail, and each major professional sport in Australia will follow their US colleagues in staying away from the WADA code, and developing in partnership with its players a tailor-made anti-doping code that will have the trust and confidence of the administrators, players and fans of each sport. And even more hopefully, the Australian government will have the courage and common sense to allow them to do so.
Lawyer Brendan Schwab is general secretary of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance, peak body for eight major players’ associations representing 3500 elite athletes. He is also a vice-president of FIFPro, the world footballers’ association, and vice-chair of UNI Sport Pro.