Conflict of interest in anti-doping

The FIFA bribery and corruption proceedings, the International Amateur Athletic Federation doping investigation and the Russian “doping scandal” have raised important questions regarding the role of governments, international sport federations (IFs), national anti-doping organizations (NADOs), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the fight against doping in sport.

The IOC is now seeing more clearly that IFs should get out of the business of testing and results management over doping cases within their own sports; it is, and has always been, an extreme conflict of interest. As an alternative approach, the IOC has asked WADA to look into taking on these testing and results management roles. WADA, however, is already the regulatory and compliance body for the World Anti-Doping Code. So to shift the testing, investigations and results management role from IFs to WADA is really only shifting the conflict of interest from IFs to WADA. If WADA is the compliance regulator, it is inappropriate for them to be carrying out the testing, investigations and results management role. Not only is it a conflict of interest (putting the fox in among the hens), but it will drive up the cost of administering the World Anti-Doping Code if WADA were to build up a worldwide testing, investigations and results management program.

There is, however, a more independent and cost-effective solution. Have WADA “accredit” independently structured NADOs which meet rigorous standards for carrying out testing, investigations, and results management. There exists today a worldwide network of such independent NADOs ready and willing to play this role. WADA “accredited” NADOs could then be engaged by IFs to carry out their anti-doping work. This is analogous to how the WADA-accredited laboratories currently function.

Concerns that accredited NADOs would be in a conflict of interest because they receive funding from their governments, and/or they would want their national team athletes to avoid detection for doping, are not unexpected, but easily overcome. Not unlike the WADA-accredited laboratories which exist in countries and receive government funding, WADA could build in the necessary checks and balances to ensure the integrity of accredited NADOs. Field audits by WADA consistent with their regulatory function could be carried out regularly and randomly to ensure the integrity of NADO operations.

Keep in mind that the IFs’ primary purposes are to develop their sport, organize sporting events and attract more participants and spectators to their sport. Doping violations in their sport are extremely harmful to all of these purposes – hence the conflict of interest. Contrast this with the primary purposes of the NADO which are to detect and deter doping in all sports, to educate athletes and athlete support personnel around their rights and responsibilities, the harms of doping, and to investigate all forms of anti-doping rule violations.

Let’s engage NADOs with their expertise and experience for the very purpose they exist – to catch doping cheats and get them out of sport. Let IFs develop and grow their sports (including creating a clean sport environment). And, allow WADA to ensure compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.