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Elements for a solution to doping in the Olympics and paddlesports

canoe kayak doping problem solution sportscene

By William T. Endicott - August 31, 2016

As we have seen, doping is a serious problem in Olympic sports including Canoe/Kayak. It’s also becoming clear that the following are the basic elements for any solution to the problem:

1.  CREATE HONEST DRUG TESTING AGENCY.  Get drug testing out of the hands of entities with conflicts of interests and into the hands of honest testers.   We’ve seen how in some cases expecting national federations to police their own athletes is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.  And even for the ones who do it honestly there is always going to be just the appearance of conflict of interest.  

So, what you have to do is create a new entity to do the testing.  That’s why the IOC has asked WADA to oversee the creation of an independent body to handle drug-testing worldwide. The target date is before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  

The IOC has already taken a step in that direction in Rio by removing itself for the first time from handling positive drug testing at the Olympics and turning it over to a special panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

2.  IMPLEMENT BETTER TESTING ON A BIGGER SCALE.   Unless you do out of competition testing, and only do in competition testing, you’re not serious about clamping down on doping.  At the moment, while not perfect, the biologic passport is the best method for doing this.   But it costs about $6,000 per athlete per year.  And implementing it just in the Olympic disciplines of Canoe/Kayak could run to about $350,000 annually.  At first blush this seems like a non-starter.  But is it really?

3.  RAISE MORE MONEY FOR TESTING.  Doing the above two things is going to cost a lot of money.  But WADA head Craig Reedie has estimated that the global sports industry is a $145 billion business, with annual media rights fees alone totaling more than $35 billion.

So, Reedie is advocating a tax on TV rights deals and contributions from sponsor companies in order to help fund the fight against doping.

Reedie suggested levying a 0.5 percent tariff on all broadcast rights fees, which he said would raise $175 million and increase WADA's budget five-fold.  (WADA currently has an annual budget of about $30 million, which is funded 50-50 by governments and sports bodies.)

Reedie also said corporate sponsors — who pay about $50 million a year in sports deals — should kick in their share for anti-doping efforts.

The IOC can contribute, too.  For example, Reedie noted that $12 million has been raised for anti-doping research through a joint WADA --IOC project.

Finally, Reedie has also requested that governments pitch in more to help fund investigations of the type that detailed the state-sponsored doping in Russia.

4.  CHANGE WADA CODE TO PERMIT TOUGHER PENALTIES.  For instance, why not have lifetime bans for doping first offences that are blatantly intentional and not inadvertent?  Right now, we have repeated instances of athletes getting caught for intentional doping violations, serving relatively short bans, and then being allowed to be in the Olympics again.   What kind of deterrence is this?  The message is:  “Why not dope?  Even if you get caught, the ban will probably be short and you can compete again.”   The problem is even worse if, as has been claimed by some scientists, the benefits of any past doping stay with you for a very long time. 

canoe kayak doping problem solution sportscene

The short answer for why governing bodies do not now impose lifetime bans for first offenses is because they are not allowed to as signatories to the WADA Code (see Article 10 at http://www.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/wada-2015-world-anti-doping-code.pdf).  In other words, it would take changing the Code before lifetime bans could be implemented for first tine offenses.

The WADA Code does actually provide for lifetime bans now. However, they are reserved, on a first offence, for what the Code considers to be the most serious offences, those involving trafficking or administration of banned substances (particularly where minors are involved).

For the typical doping offence, involving the presence of a banned substance and other offences such as use/attempted use; whereabouts failures (athletes not being where they said they would be in order to be randomly tested); and failure to submit to sample, lifetime bans are imposed only for a third offence.

At present, the starting point for the duration of a ban is 4 years. But this can be reduced to 2 years or even to a reprimand and no period of ineligibility if the athlete can show that the offence was unintentional or the athlete had “no significant fault or negligence.”   This could be made tougher: the starting point could be a lifetime ban that could be reduced for mitigating circumstances. 

There are several arguments against a lifetime ban for a first offense.  One is that the science of dope testing isn’t accurate enough to support a lifetime ban.  According to this argument, you’d see a lot more “inadvertent use” defenses, which would cripple the system with much more costly appeals.  But the rebuttal to this would be “if you think drug testing is so inaccurate then why have it at all?”

Another argument for not having lifetime bans is because society accepts the need for ‘second chances’ in other aspects of life, including situations involving physical harm to another. For example, why should drunk drivers who have killed people be allowed to have their licenses back but the doper is never to be allowed to compete again?  The rebuttal argument is that we do exclude people from doing certain jobs based on previous convictions.  For example, we don’t let people be bank tellers if they’ve been convicted of theft; we don’t let people be teachers or coaches if they’re convicted sex offenders. 

Yet another argument against lifetime bans for a first offense is that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) won’t uphold them. The CAS has exclusive jurisdiction over disputes involving doping.  IOC President Thomas Bach says he’s in favor of lifetime bans, but the CAS is the problem.  Several cases are cited to prove his point, for example:

- The IOC attempted to block Russian athletes with a previous doping record from competing at the Rio Olympics as part of wider efforts to sanction Russia over more recent state-backed doping.  But their effort was thwarted by the CAS, which ruled athletes cannot be sanctioned twice for the same offense.

- The IOC had also attempted in 2011 to pass the so-called "Osaka rule," by which athletes with a doping sanction of six months or longer would be automatically banned from the next Games, but that was also blocked by the CAS.

-  The CAS denied a British Olympic Association’s attempt to ban British sprinter Dwaine Chambers from the London Olympics on the basis of a past doping offense.

While the CAS operates on the principles of law -- proportionality of penalty to offense, for example --  it also operates on the principles of the WADA Code and its penalty framework.  It would seem, therefore, that if you made the Code’s penalty framework stronger, you’d have a better chance of the CAS upholding tougher penalties.

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