Wada-bashing is a popular sport. As Jamaica and Kenya, among others, gaily flout the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code, the Montreal-headquartered agency that drafted the rules is getting it in the neck for not being tough enough on the miscreants.
Under cross-examination by Evan Davis on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, John Fahey, the outgoing Wada president, could only respond weakly that he had “no power to comply [sic – I think he meant compel] anyone to do certain things”. The tone of the inquisition led the listener to conclude, “What on earth is the point of you?”
While this is a reasonable retort given the apparent inaction, it misses the fact that, despite its name, Wada is not the global policeman for the anti-doping movement.
It would be too depressing to think of it as merely a service provider for national anti-doping agencies – it does have a bit more influence than that – but it is fundamentally a legal mechanism that allows sport and governments to work together to beat the cheats.
Therefore, the hard questions about why athletes continue to dope and evade detection would be better directed at federation chiefs, politicians and, ultimately, the International Olympic Committee.
While Fahey was vainly defending the brevity of Wada’s visit to Jamaica – dressed up as an “extraordinary audit” – who was asking Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller what she was doing about the country’s doping problem?
Who was asking Thomas Bach, the newly elected IOC president, whether he would throw Jamaica and Kenya – respectively the most successful sprint and endurance running nations – out of the Olympics?
The sooner we shift the moral responsibility for catching drugs cheats from Wada to those with statutory powers, the better.
Wada is the first to point out that the most seminal anti-doping cases only came to light through evidence uncovered by public authorities. The list includes the 1998 Festina case, which busted open EPO use in the Tour de France, the 2003 Balco scandal that ultimately brought down Marion Jones and the raid on the Austrian ski team at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
The impact of this coordinated approach has far-reaching, cross-border ramifications.
Operation Raw Deal in 2007, when US law enforcement agencies closed down an illegal supply network of steroids sourced from China, is a prime example. Intelligence gathered by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration led directly to Larry Olubamiwo, a British heavyweight boxer, five years later. He forfeited amateur and professional honours won over a six-year period after testing positive for EPO and subsequently admitting to using 13 banned substances, including human growth hormone and anabolic steroids.
He in turn shopped a fellow boxer to the authorities, earning him a (perhaps too generous) reduction of his four-year ban to one.
The case amply demonstrates how the fight against drugs in sport is futile without the intervention of law enforcement agencies.
Jonathan Taylor, a sports lawyer at Bird & Bird, says he increasingly builds successful cases against athletes not on laboratory analysis but on police interview transcripts and customs seizure reports.
Only the very stupid or reckless get caught by random testing (even out of competition, given the increasing sophistication of micro-dosing), which makes you wonder which category Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay fall into.
And this is why the key part of the revised Wada code, ratified in Johannesburg yesterday, is not tougher sanctions against athletes who cheat – everyone agrees they were too lax – but the greater onus on governments to comply with the code.
A significant change is the obligation on nations to draft laws or policies for cooperation and timely information sharing between public authorities and anti-doping agencies. This should (in theory) avoid a repeat of the shameful order by a Madrid court to destroy blood bags seized under Operation Puerto that identified cheats beyond cycling. Another is a duty to create a national anti-doping agency if one does not exist.
The tougher provisions give countries signed up to the Unesco Convention, which include both Kenya and Jamaica, less wriggle room for non-compliance. In 2005, Unesco approved the International Convention against Doping in Sport, the first global treaty of its kind, which came into force in 2007.
Gradually, the world of sport is coming into broad agreement on a legal framework for tackling doping. The challenge now is in the execution.
Andy Parkinson, the UK anti-doping chief, is right to emphasise the difference between countries who can’t comply – owing to limited resources – and those who won’t because they don’t want to topple national heroes.
Bach, to his credit, has already called for state authorities to crack down on the people behind doping – dealers, agents, coaches and doctors – and to cooperate with sport to bring them to justice. And he will get firm support on that front from Sir Craig Reedie, the British IOC executive board member and new Wada president.
But his real test is in dealing with those who persist in paying lip service to the rules. Would the IOC expel the Jamaican Olympic committee from the Games while Usain Bolt, who maintains he is clean and has never failed a test, continued to be the main draw?
Highly unlikely but it would send a hell of a message, however unpopular.
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