The Diatribe Against Doping


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By -Rishika Mendiratta (Founder and Managing Editor at KhelAdhikar)

In this dynamic world, where change is the only constant, where religion and regional divides are becoming stronger, where nationalism is gradually taking the form of chauvinism, the only universally integrating factor surpassing and encompassing the political, diplomatic and human barriers is Sports.  The eternal values it embraces. The joy it spreads, the excitement with which everyone is enraptured in the breath-taking performances and spectacles which celebrate human excellence in equal measure put sports on an unparalleled pedestal in today’s era. To put it succinctly, in the words of Juan Antonio Samranch- “Sport is friendship, Sport is Health, Sport is Education, Sport is Life and Sport brings the world together.”

Sports is equal to physical poetry because the performances are assessed on a level playing field. It is the aim of being the undisputed, unrivalled champions of their skill that pushes sportspersons to strive for excellence at various international and national events. The innocuous competitiveness of these events takes a nosedive when it is marred by doping, affecting the credibility of the human effort and the results associated with it. It is to maintain the undying faith of people in the untarnished image of sports, that the World Anti-Doping (WADA) and National Anti-Doping Agencies were established all over the world.

The quote by Mae West, -“The score never interested me, only the game”, aptly summarises the fight against doping in sport. Every revelation about an athlete who had indulged in doping, whether, it was Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Tyson Gay or Maria Sharapova, has saddened and angered the fans and competitors alike. If the Garica Report in 2014 revolutionised the world of FIFA governance by exposing corruption, the Richard Mclaren Report in 2016 about Russia’s organised doping scandal has raised some unprecedented questions and has paved way for a greater change to combat this menace.

A sneak peek into Russia’s orchestrated doping scenario leaves one in speechless awe and disgust because of the collusion between the country’s Sports ministry and the national doping agency that successfully evaded the WADA scrutiny and defrauded the entire sport loving population. The Russians had developed a “fail-safe system” powered by “positive disappearing technology” wherein after the direction of the Sports Ministry, almost 312 of the 577 positive results were marked as negative(safe). To further strengthen their duping through doping they developed a sample swapping technique in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, where they had the aid of the national secret service, Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) who helped them swap contaminated urine samples. This was pervasive for a long time and many prestigious international competitions such as 2012 Olympic Games, the 2013 IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) Championships as well as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games were victims of their manipulated dope testing process.

To make matters worse, Putin declined all allegations of state-assisted doping violations even though the future of many of the country’s athletes’ participation in Rio Olympics, 2016 was jeopardised. Russia who has always banked upon sports to showcase their superiority, as highlighted in the Soviet Era would never politically concede to the revelation of Richard Mclaren’s report. Putin comfortably smirked away at all the charges, by blaming Rodchenkov (the whistle-blower of the Russian Doping scandal and erstwhile director of Russian Anti-Doping Agency), and hinting at the report to have been influenced by the USA. He did say that the guilty will be brought to account but never accepted the charges of state-aided doping being carried out. This proved to be analogous to the scenario when in the era of Olympic amateurism, Russia denied sending professional athletes which was falsified later. One just hopes this is not the future of Putin’s present denial although in the light of the shreds of evidence in the present report such a scenario does not seem far-fetched.

Nevertheless, the striking factor was the IOCs (International Olympic Committee) response to the whole situation. The strong position which IOC proposes against doping was a mere paper tiger. This was because instead of imposing an outright ban on all the athletes mentioned in the report, it allowed the international federations of the respective sports to take a call on the fate of participation of the athletes.  Although the international sporting committee was bound to go by the stance of parliament of owls in IOC, there was disapproval of this measure by many national organisations from around the world.

As the Olympics progressed and the din surrounding the Russian doping had mellowed down a bit, there was an anti-climactic twist to the doping imbroglio. “Fancy Bears” a group of hackers, illegally accessed WADA’s records and exposed to the world how many of the USA’s top athletes were using prohibited substances in the garb of TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemptions). Thus they were doing legally what Russians were doing illegally. This sharp criticism nowhere doubts the rationale of TUE exemptions but as per the WADA records statistics, the TUEs have been gradually rising over the years. They have increased from around 636 in 2013 to around 1330 in 2015. Even though allowed to help an athlete get over any disadvantage accrued due to a medical condition, the system is not foolproof and is susceptible to misuse. For example, according to the Canadian expert Richard McLaren, medicines for ADHD, the condition Simon Biles suffers from, in addition to improving brain function are also proven to improve athletic performance. In such scenarios, the efficacy of TUE, in putting everyone on a level playing field is certainly questionable.

In spite of the imperfections in the WADA methods and procedures, the scenario is not glum. In the words of Mario Andretti, “If you have everything under control, you are not moving fast enough”. Well, the shortcomings pave the way for more practical and viable solutions for the future of clean sports. Russia has recently come with a legislation that criminalises doping and even the inducement to consume prohibited substances, which includes fines, disqualification and even a probation period of one or two years depending upon the gravity of the offence. Thus the stringent measure has brought in a welcome change for the Russian sports. The next logical question to ponder upon is, whether criminalisation of doping is essential? The World Anti-Doping Agency in its official press release has stated that they do not recommend such a measure. In their opinion, the provision of CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sports) being the final forum and an increased term of 4 years disqualification( The term of disqualification before 2015 was two years)  is a satisfactory sanction for the act or inducement to doping. Nonetheless, they support penalising trafficking and distribution of banned substances by individual countries in furtherance to their commitment to UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport, 2005.

The aforementioned stance of WADA clarifies that countries are under no obligation to have penal laws for doping aberrations. But many countries in Europe such as Austria, Italy, Spain and even non-European countries such as Australia, China etc. have criminal legislations on doping. These countries certainly have less doping instances. The probable reasoning for the same is that a uniform mechanism for dealing with doping offences for all sports under the criminal framework brings in clarity for the enforcers to bring about a proper implementation of the anti-doping measures. Secondly, the criminal system acts as an effective deterrent for the athletes as it has a social stigma attached to it. Besides, being a matter of criminal prosecution, it equips the authorities with greater resources to carry out the investigation. The only downside of criminalising doping is the change in the standard of proof requirement. The WADA code prescribes for strict liability wherein the athlete is liable and disqualified even for unintentional consumption of prohibited substances. The need to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt would make it tougher to secure punishments under the criminal statute.  Thus a criminal legislation may not be a definitive solution to the perils of doping but it is undoubtedly an instrumental move to tackle this pervasive problem in Russia.

As Shane Carwin, had beautifully put it, “It does not matter if you win or lose it, it matters how you win or lose.” Therefore, the fight against doping is not for a specific sport or sporting event. It is for the very idea of sport that goes beyond any physical display of talent, skill or effort. It is the spirit with which humanity enjoys, plays and experiences these games, and for the unity and bond formed irrespective of the differences. It is for upholding this untainted beauty of any sporting endeavour that WADA strives for through its programmes and procedures. Let us hope that the Russian doping legislation is certainly a step in the right direction and opens up a fresh chapter in the mission for achieving CLEAN SPORTS.


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