The UK Government has published its Review of Criminalisation of Doping in Sport, and concluded that doping in the UK should not be criminalised. It’s definitely naughty though, you shouldn’t do it, and the report envisions better use of existing powers to combat doping.
Doping is criminalised in Italy and France, so get caught there and you become involved with the police. One potential advantage of this system is that it limits the scope for corruption and conflicts of interest. If you’re a sports governing body or a race organiser with commercial sponsorships or partnerships, it’s probably not great news if your athletes start turning up positive doping results. The police however have no such concerns, so are potentially more likely to get stuck in to investigating things – although as the report points out, this depends on the police prioritising such investigations. Depending on what else they’ve got on their plate – murders, burglaries, theft etc – you might find that the police don’t take too much interest in someone doping at their local sportive or even national athletics meet.
Without criminal sanctions, the report suggests doping may be better combated through better sharing of information between sporting bodies, education, and effective testing. Five characteristics of effective testing are identified in the report:
- a) Random, no-notice testing out-of-competition;
- b) Use blood, urine and other physiological testing methods;
- c) Broad spectrum analysis (i.e. looking at the composition of the sample and comparing it with normal samples, rather than looking for specific drugs);
- d) Frequent tests for high risk individuals with longitudinal comparisons (i.e. the biological passport approach);
- e) Supervision of sample production (i.e. ensuring that the athlete cannot tamper or exchange the sample).
It might come as a surprise to some readers that in competition testing tends to be fairly predictable. The report notes that it is usually necessary to tell the event organisers in advance that UKAD plans to carry out tests. This results in athletes knowing that they will be tested – giving them the opportunity to adjust their doping practices – or develop last minute injuries and illnesses to take them out the competition. One of the report’s recommendations is that UKAD officials should have access to all sporting events to enable random testing as required.
So, it doesn’t look like that much is going to change as a result of this report. If the recommendation to give UKAD officials automatic access to any sporting event is progressed, it could however result in some interesting debate. When is a sporting event a sporting event? Could officials turn up at a sportive? Or an enduro? How about a local downhill race? Should we all expect to potentially be asked to pee in a cup if we enter a race?
The report does talk about targeted testing, aiming for intelligence based testing rather than trying to test hundreds of people in the hope of catching someone at it. We’ve no idea whether there are many performance enhancing substances being taken in mountain biking – though we’d suspect there’s plenty of recreational stuff going on. But why should mountain biking be any different to any other sport for people seeking performance enhancement – there are still titles and prizes to be won.
As far as we know there’s no testing on the EWS circuit. We’d be astounded if Red Bull Rampage had ever had a visit from WADA. Do we mind? Do the athletes mind? Do we want to know our idols are riding clean? Or do we take the view that it’s up to each competitor to take the risks that they choose – whether it’s line choice, breakneck speed, or a pill that keeps you riding harder for longer at an unknown cost to their health?
What do you think? Is professional sport a pure and worthy pursuit worth protecting at all costs? Or is it just entertainment?
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