Problems at World Anti-Doping Agency will 'drive innocent athletes out of sport'

The current approach of the international agency responsible for fighting the use of drugs in sport will drive innocent athletes out of the Olympic Games, according to an article in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was set up in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee and publishes the list of banned substances and monitors drug use in sport through random tests.

In a review of some of the practices and procedures used by WADA, a leading sports scientist from the USA and a top marathon coach from the UK have identified major problems that they believe will lead to innocent athletes paying the price for a flawed anti-doping system.

Key to their finding was a lack of scientific evidence and protocol at the heart of WADA's operations.

"Drug testing and classification should be a scientific affair, unfortunately WADA appears to have little to no understanding of the criteria for science," said Dr Brent Rushall from San Diego State University, a four-time Olympic Team psychologist for Canada, who co-wrote the article with Max Jones, a multiple age-group world-record holding runner who has studied the drugs in sport movement.

"The actions and scope of WADA are causes for grave concern for the anti-drugs in sport movement. It is inevitable that if WADA continues its practices, professional athletes will be driven out of the Olympic Games."

Problems identified by the authors include:

  • Substances included in WADA's banned list are based on speculation rather than scientific evidence
  • WADA's clandestine sample collection procedures appear to ignore basic scientific guidelines
  • The way WADA lists banned substances does not conform to usual scientific practice, leading to confusion for coaches and athletes

    The authors cite the hysteria surrounding Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) as an example of WADA's poor use of science. There is no consistent evidence to suggest that AAS directly enhance sports performance, yet they remain a key feature of the WADA banned substance list.

    WADA's clandestine testing procedures appear to ignore basic scientific protocols. One high profile example of this was the former British middle-distance runner, Diane Modahl, whose urine sample was left at room temperature for more than 48 hours allowing bacteria to change the nature of the sample.

    "WADA's procedures for collecting and analysing samples do not usually follow the minimal guidelines for preserving the integrity of samples," said Dr Rushall.

    "Similarly, the WADA banned-substances list is falsely assumed to include all of the substances that enhance sporting performance. That assumption is false. The WADA method of adding substances to its banned list appears to be based on speculation.

    "Athletes are threatened and punished on the basis of the false premises involved in the inclusion of substances and methods on the WADA banned list."

    Max Jones added: "Sport will change, possibly forever, because of the actions of WADA."

    "The activities of WADA and its affiliates, having gone unquestioned for so long by governments, the media and the public, need to be exposed, and a better anti-doping agency installed in its place, one which is ethically based and accountable to the world's finest athletes."

    Dr Simon Jenkins from the Department of Sports Development and Recreation at the University of Bath, who founded and edits the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, said: "Coaches and sports scientists have a moral responsibility to educate athletes about the perils and folly of taking drugs that are purported to enhance performance in sport."

    "Organisations have this responsibility, too. Brent and Max draw attention to serious problems with doping control in sport and a failure of the World Anti-Doping Agency to embrace the ethics and methods of modern pharmacology and medical science."

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    The International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching is a new peer-reviewed journal, which aims to bridge the gap between coaching and sports science. The journal aims to support the development of a community in which sports coaches and scientists learn from each other, with scientific research being embraced in practice.

    Other articles in this issue include an insight into the importance of control in coaching, original research on the determinants and reactions to athlete dissatisfaction, and a review of common misunderstandings about endurance exercise.

    This issue of the journal is available in full and free of charge at: http://www.multi-science.co.uk/sports_science_1-1.pdf


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