Anti-doping: widening the net against a common enemy

Sport is huge business and the influence of the underworld is getting greater by the year, whether through illegal gambling or through the supply of doping substances. This threat is so acute that it needs to be addressed head on.
David Howman
23 September 2011

One only has to look at a handful of successful law enforcement investigations into doping to appreciate the impact they can have on sport.

The BALCO case, Operation Puerto, the Italian police investigation at the Turin Olympics, Operation Raw Deal – all were carried out by authorities with a jurisdiction that goes far beyond that of sport, and all of them produced results that had a major influence on sport.

These have been the result of a successful equal partnership between sport and government in the governance and operations of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Sport has needed the support of governments to continue the fight against doping, and it now needs similar help in the fight against corruption.

The two are closely interlinked and it is for this reason that WADA has been promoting the need for an independent world body to focus on corruption, which many now consider the biggest single threat to modern sport.

Science, and urine/blood analysis, has, and will always have, a significant role to play in anti-doping, but we are at a stage now in the genesis of doping techniques that the war on drugs in sport needs to be fought on several fronts.

Testing, research, education, awareness, these will always be a critical part of WADA’s and the anti-doping community’s mandate. But as an organization WADA has also been promoting the need for more intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing.

We need to develop a more coherent approach to anti-doping that embraces relationships with law enforcement and other authorities, one that is mutually beneficial and one that makes the most of the resources available.

To this end WADA already has in place memoranda of agreement with Interpol and the World Customs Organization, and earlier this year released guidelines for national anti-doping organizations on how to develop relationships with law enforcement agencies.

This is not a new concept; indeed, it is one that WADA has been talking about for a couple of years now. But more and more it is becoming clear that the athletes who wish to cheat by using performance enhancing substances are receiving those substances from underworld sources.

The key word here is the underworld, and it is the same underworld figures involved in the corruption of sport – whether through illegal gambling, bribery, money-laundering – who are also involved in the trafficking and supplying of doping products.

Let us first think about the health implications of this. Not only are athletes being exposed to regulated or licensed products which can do them harm if taken for the wrong reasons, they are also being exposed to non-regulated or unlicensed versions of the same products that are made illegally.

Chemists and their required paraphernalia are readily available to villains who wish to copy prescription medicines for illegal use. These substances are produced in back-street labs – known as “kitchen labs” - in unsanitary conditions and are totally unregulated.

The recipients of these substances are, therefore, running a double risk. It’s bad enough when they know what they are putting into their bodies, worse when they cannot be totally sure.

Steroid pushers now aim at the high school student who wants to “look good”. When young people become involved no longer can steroids remain a problem just for sport.

And no longer is it a problem just for sport when increasing numbers of our security forces are found to be taking steroids on a regular basis.

Clearly this also is a problem for society, and one that has to be addressed by a widening circle of authorities and agencies.

The facts and figures relating to the illegal production of performance enhancing substances clearly illustrate the attraction this trade has for the criminals in our society.

I am reliably informed that nowadays more money is made in the illegal trafficking of steroids than from that of heroin, while the mark up $100 of raw materials for steroids might be turned into as much as a $10,000 profit.
It is easy to see why the underworld is drawn to this illegal market.

WADA, and leading figures from the sports world, have highlighted the need for more support against these elements, because it is the same people who are also developing more and more sophisticated means of corrupting sport.

Millions is gambled every day, very often on just one match, through illegal betting operations and the shady figures who lead these operations have undue influence on athletes and officials around the world in order to manipulate sport.

The intricacies of modern betting, and the types of wagers now available, allow athletes to influence games and events without the match result ever being at stake.

Conceding a throw-in in the first minutes of a football match is not considered the same as throwing a match, so a player may be tempted to accept a significant sum of money for what to them appears an insignificant act. But clearly it is a slippery slope.

The influence of the criminals is insidious. Once they have an athlete on their books their demands can become greater, until events spiral completely out of the athlete’s control.

Sport is huge business and the influence of the underworld is getting greater by the year, whether through illegal gambling or through the supply of illegal doping substances.

The threat needs to be addressed head on, and for this reason I have promoted the concept of a government-sport partnership leading to a global anti-corruption body which can benefit from the WADA experience.

WADA and the anti-doping community across the world face many challenges, clearly; and as those challenges become more sophisticated, so we need to adopt a more sophisticated approach.

Already we have increased our intelligence networks with organizations that have the jurisdiction to tackle the problem on a different level.

A world anti-corruption agency would be able to target the same underworld figures we are confronting by sharing information and using applicable laws.


This article was first published as part of Play the Game's comment series on corruption in sport

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