Doping has been heavily in the media spotlight since last month’s BBC Panorama programme and I know the US and UK anti-doping bodies are investigating the allegations made.
We are doing the same at the World Anti-Doping Agency. Take therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs), which are designed to protect an athlete’s health. We monitor this system carefully to make sure that people don’t try to abuse it for their own gain. You can always look at tightening up such systems but we are satisfied that the rules are strong.
Another issue is thyroid medication, which has been a hot topic in the British media in particular. There has been some suggestion from a couple of anti-doping organisations that thyroxine should be placed on the prohibited list, which was put to our list committee. They came to the conclusion there was not enough scientific evidence to make it a banned substance. Of course, the status of substances like thyroxine is constantly under review but it is important for there to be conclusive evidence before changing the status of a substance.
Another hot topic has been the “whereabouts” system and, in the case of Mo Farah’s two missed tests – over a very prolonged period of time, it must be said – it became a huge story.
The reality is the whereabouts system is the best way to keep the sport clean. We need to be able to do surprise, unannounced, out-of-competition testing.
We realise that people can be careless or make mistakes and, in a sense, that has been recognised. Previously, it would have been a rule violation if an athlete clocked up three missed tests in 18 months, whereas now there has to be three missed tests in 12 months.
I accept that some athletes may still question the whereabouts system, but I believe the majority see it as a necessary and better way to ensure clean sport prevails. Besides, more people are using the Adams [Anti-Doping Administration and Management System] to submit their whereabouts than ever before.
The athlete entourage is another area of great focus for us in anti-doping. What will help in this regard is a list that Wada is publishing later this month showing individuals from across the world that athletes should avoid being associated with.
This relates to the new prohibited association rule, in which athletes could face a sanction if they mix with a coach, doctor, agent or other entourage member that was – or would have been – banned for a doping violation in the past six years. This rule builds on the push to address the issue that athletes very rarely dope on their own. There is almost always someone else involved, whether it’s a coach, a manager or even a friend.
We are also continuing to look into the issue of micro-dosing, whereby tiny amounts of a substance fail to show up in tests, to see if that’s really as effective as some people believe.
Furthermore, we are now encouraging night-time testing – from 11pm to 5am – where there is reasonable suspicion for an athlete to be tested. This is permitted under the new code and should be used when required to detect doping among those athletes that may not be caught during day-time testing.
There are certainly new questions being asked of the anti-doping community, but I am confident we have the rules in place to make strides. It is up to the organisations – be they sporting or governmental – to practise them effectively so that doping can be detected and athletes can be deterred and even prevented from doping.
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