Graham Kelly: Why all the hype about the dangers of doping?

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The Independent Football

There was never any danger of football being thrown out of the Olympic Games for failing to sign up to the World Anti-Doping Agency code. Nevertheless, the love-in last month between the Wada chairman, Richard Pound, and the president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, when an accord was signed in Paris on the occasion of the centenary of football's world governing body, was startling in its humbug.

Fifa declared that it respected and supported the work of Wada, yet maintained its autonomy to deal with drugs cases in its own way by keeping its distance from the code. Pound told the Fifa congress that doping was the greatest danger faced by sport. This is nonsense. Doping is just one potential form of cheating among many in football and there is no evidence that it has seriously distorted the game.

"The code will form the basis for the harmonised fight against doping in sport, by the sports movement and by the public authorities, so that athletes throughout the world, in all sports, will be subject to the same rules, consistently applied," Pound said. But the only reason all sports require a single, one-size-fits-all "harmonised" anti-doping code is to justify the existence of a $100m (£54.4m) business named Wada.

The nub of the Paris concordat lay in Pound's comments on sanctions, which were highly misleading. Blatter had always opposed the concept of strict liability. Pound said there was a universal view that each offence had to be considered as an individual case and flexibility had been built into the code: no action, warning, reduced penalties, where there was no significant fault, to two years for a first serious offence; Fifa could be assured that all of its concerns had been dealt with in the code.

Pound, as a lawyer, knows well that there is a world of difference between conviction and punishment. His emphasis on the difference between "no action" and "two years" was unfair, as that range of options, preceded by immediate suspension, the only one available to the governing body, presumes guilt.

Another of Blatter's fundamental points that has never been met by Wada was the call by the medical representatives of Olympic team sports federations in August 2002 for the development of international standards of criteria to produce an "evidence-based list of banned substances and prohibited methods".

Pound did not undersell the code in his speech to the Fifa delegates: "Developing the code was a complex consultative effort, involving the international federations, the national Olympic committees, the International Olympic Committee, Olympic and other athletes, governments and international agencies."

In truth, the open-to-all part of the consultative effort consisted of Wada posting a notice on its website inviting any stakeholders who by chance happened upon it to comment on drafts of its code.

Of the one billion or so participants in sport worldwide to whom the code applies in principle, there are one million world-class performers, approximately, who could be targeted for drug-testing, around 0.05 per cent of whom are targeted; there are 201 countries with governments and national Olympic committees: there are 34 Olympic sports and hence 34 international federations to which, potentially, there could be reporting 6,834 national governing bodies, all of which have their own rules. But every single one must incorporate Wada's anti-doping rules if there is to be harmonisation.

When Wada posted its second draft, it reported "more than 120 responses were received from a broad cross-section of the Olympic movement, public authorities, international federations and other interested parties".

In fact, there were only 201 respondents to the first and second drafts and the only Olympic athletes who bothered to reply were retired competitors now on the IOC Athletes Commission.

Let's turn back the clock a few years to a question-and-answer feature on the IOC website after its Lausanne Conference on doping in sport which followed the EPO-dominated Tour de France.

"Is doping in sport actually effective?" the IOC was asked. "The effectiveness of doping is far from being proven in all the cases which have come to light," was the initial answer, Then the committee replied: "Even in optimum conditions of constant medical supervision (which obviously costs a great deal of money), it is not certain that doping leads necessarily to higher rankings," and finally: "In so far as it always endangers athletes' health, 'effective' doping does not exist. In any case, the fact remains that there is no treatment capable of turning an average athlete into a world-class champion."

So why all the fuss about "the greatest danger faced by sport today"?

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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