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Friday, 25 February 2011

Doping in sport

I have kept away from the debate whilst the Alberto Contador saga was played out. Now it has come to a conclusion and, with the comments from some folk following Lance Armstrong announcing his retirement, I thought I would say my piece.

Alberto Contador has undergone examination by his national governing body and was found to be not guilty of doping. End of. Time to move on.
Fans of our sport may not agree with the findings but the verdict has been passed and we need to put the matter behind us.
My personal feelings are that I pray he was truthful. I enjoyed watching him in the 2010 Tour de France and to have that enjoyment destroyed if he had doped would be tragic for me.

Lance Armstrong continues to be subject of accusations and rumour about practices he allegedly involved himself in during his epic journey to 7 Tour de France victories.
I think he should be left alone. During his career, he has been subject to numerous in and out of competition tests, each of which he passed at the time.
The thought that Armstrong is a liar and cheat is something I do want to contemplate. Watching him race was great. The time trial ability, ‘The Look’ that Jan Ullrich received as he was passed by Lance, the recovery from the spectators bag induce crash, the cyclocross escapade after Beloki crashed out- all fantastic memories, memories I want to cherish. If it turned out he doped, these memories will be diminished. Not destroyed because they were still good things to watch, but sadly diminished all the same.

What is my take on the fight against the scourge of doping?

I think the time has come to take the responsibility away from national and international sporting governing bodies and national anti doping agencies.

All aspects of doping control should be the responsibility of one international agency with law enforcement status in each signatory country, perhaps overseen by an already existing international organisation - the United Nations. I know we have WADA but, they seem to be more an oversight committee than a control agency. I will call this agency the ADA for the rest of this post.

Doping and associated offences should be subject to criminal conviction in the countries where either the sporting event took place or the home country of the athlete involved, with custodial sentences the automatic outcome of positive tests, which strikes me as a stronger deterrent than a 2 year ban. This is a good reason to have the UN oversee the ADA.

This one agency should be responsible for sample collection, delivery to labs that they control and testing. Knowledge of what labs are being used during a particular competition should be possessed only by staff of the ADA.

International and national governing bodies should be required to sign up to the ADA constitution under penalty of exclusion from international competition. The International Olympic Committee would obviously need to be a very early signatory.

In competition testing should include all athletes finishing in the top 3 of an individual event and random testing should account for at least 10% of athletes not falling within that category by the end of an event (so 10% of riders in the TdF for example, who did not top 3 on any stage would still have been tested by the conclusion of the last stage on at least one occasion). Team events such as Football, Cricket, Rugby etc should be subject to 10% of the players at each event being tested.

Out of competition testing should be unannounced. Athletes should be required to keep the ADA appraised of their whereabouts at all times if away from home overnight. They should also be contactable at all times. The ADA should be able to contact an athlete to establish there whereabouts at all times. This would then facilitate testers attending the athletes’ location and obtaining samples. Procedures should be established to take into account such situations as an athlete being at a cinema/ theatre/ other venue/ situation where having a mobile phone go off would get them lynched.

Athletes not wishing to be subjected to these stringent lifestyle intrusions have a choice- don’t compete. If you want to compete, you sign up.

Retrospective testing of samples e.g. testing Lance Armstrong’s samples from the 1999 TdF in 2011 doesn’t happen. If it passes the scrutiny of the day, it passes.

Breaches of confidentiality and integrity of the processes and systems should be treated as criminal offences in the country the breaches occurred.

Testing labs should ideally be owned by the ADA but, in the event this is not possible, ADA officers should be posted to each accredited lab on a permanent basis with the responsibility of ensuring the labs comply with the rules, practices and conditions required for robust and resilient results.

This is going to be an expensive undertaking but it is a necessary expense I think.

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