Strike at the root causes

March 31, 2011

Doping continues to represent one of the most serious threats to sport and the many benefits sport produces for its participants and our communities. Those who choose to cheat by doping, from the athlete to the coach, doctor, supplier and on through to the manufacturer, are becoming more sophisticated in their approach. New designer drugs are coming on stream every day and micro-dosing, coupled with hard-to-track-down athletes, makes detection of doping more and more challenging. In response, those of us in the business of fighting doping in sport have developed more sophisticated and sensitive analytical detection techniques. We have added blood to the bodily fluids we collect from athletes (including the promising ‘biological passport’) and we are attempting to remove all safe havens and times when athletes can dope with impunity (24/7/365 whereabouts information). We have moved away from simple, random year-round out-of-competition testing to what we call intelligent testing – testing that is informed by multiple sources of information, some related to the athlete and some related to the supply chain of the doping substances. We are working with border service agents, drug enforcement officers and local police to investigate the doping supply chain and to cut it off at its source.

All of these advances in the fight against doping in sport come at an ever increasing cost. In response, the following questions arise: Are we gaining any ground on the cheaters? Will the costs continue to go up and up? Where will this game of cat and mouse end? The answers to these questions are difficult to know.

One area that gets scant attention in the fight against doping is the upstream prevention work that goes on in our community sport systems. Sports, countries and their National Anti-Doping Organizations will often talk about their education programs. By this, the vast majority are referring to the information provided to athletes in our testing pools (information about the rights and responsibilities of athletes regarding the sample collection process and other relevant items contained in the World Anti-Doping Code). Some education programs do try to engage the athlete in an ethical decision making process which emphasizes the negative consequences of wrong choices.  Others engage their clean, high performance athletes as role models, having them speak out about their opposition to doping in sport. All are useful and well intentioned approaches, but I would suggest that they are not sufficient to make a real and sustainable difference in attacking the problem of doping in sport.

What is missing is an initiative that strikes at the root causes of doping. An initiative that prevents doping from gaining a toehold on the minds of young athletes. An initiative that chokes off the demand for doping substances and leaves the suppliers without a market. An initiative that introduces young athletes to sport in their communities in a way that reinforces the core values and key principles of sport. An initiative that creates a relationship between the athlete and their sport in which there is no place for doping – doping just doesn’t make sense to them. Such an initiative is taking root in Canada and it is called the True Sport Movement. Young children introduced to sport through the Movement are immunized on a daily basis with the values and principles of True Sport. Athletes inoculated in this way, who go on to represent our country or pursue professional careers in sport, would never trade off fairness, safety and respect for winning; that is, they would never dope in an effort to win.

If we are really serious about ridding sport of doping, we have to invest more in the upstream prevention of doping through initiatives like the True Sport Movement and attack the demand side of the doping problem with the same energy and resources we are spending on attacking the supply side.