Doping, the athlete, and the freedom of choice
IT MAY, at times, be frustrating for athletes to wake up to the calls of a doping control officer at their homes in the mornings. It may also be annoying to be approached by a chaperone at the end of a well-executed race. So, can an athlete just...
IT MAY, at times, be frustrating for athletes to wake up to the calls of a doping control officer at their homes in the mornings. It may also be annoying to be approached by a chaperone at the end of a well-executed race. So, can an athlete just say ‘no’ or ‘not now’ to the requests for his or her biological samples? Of course, they can, but that choice will have consequences.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), formed in 1999, created the ‘world anti-doping code’, which is a document that regulates and harmonises the fight against doping in sport globally. Sports associations in Jamaica and around the world have been signatories to the WADA code. That means the rules that have been established to govern the fight against doping apply to all athletes. One such rule is the filing of whereabouts by all athletes.
This means that any athlete in a registered testing pool must declare their overnight accommodations and one-hour time slots, within which, they may be tested. During this time if an athlete is not present when doping control personnel arrive for testing, they may be given a missed test. If they fail to declare their whereabouts or provide false information, they may be slapped with a filing failure. If given a total of three missed tests and/or filing failures within 12 months, that equates to an anti-doping rule violation.
Provided that the whereabouts information is provided for every day of the year, it is not known what day or how many times in that 365-day period an athlete may be tested. This ensures that there is no advance notice of a doping control test.
However, tests done only at the specified one-hour time slot may become predictable or expected, which may be an area of weakness in the fight against doping in sport.
This is of significance as some banned substances may be cleared from the body in a matter of hours, so scheduling doping around the time slot may be a loophole for athletes. As such, tests may be done outside of an athlete’s time slot, for example, at a training session or during other regular activities of the athlete.
With that said, some athletes may be of the assumption that they can only be tested within their one-hour time slot.
An athlete, however, may be tested outside their time slot but cannot be given a missed test if doping control personnel try to access them unsuccessfully outside the specified time. This brings us to another anti-doping rule violation, ‘evading’.
According to the WADA code, “evading, refusing or failing to submit to sample collection” is a violation of doping control that may be sanctioned. Once notified that a sample is required for doping control, it is the athletes’ responsibility to provide a sample, immediately. Refusing to provide a sample or evasion of doping control personnel is a violation of standard procedures. Evasion or refusal to provide a sample can result in a penalty ranging from a reprimand with no period of ineligibility, up to four years of ineligibility from the sport.
In addition to being banned from the sport, an athlete may suffer the consequences of having their competition results disqualified or forfeiture of prizes/medals.
For a professional athlete, their sport is a full-time job. This full-time job has various requirements of which patrons of the sport may be unaware.
In addition to training, media, and sponsorship obligations, being subject to doping control is a primary requirement. It is never assumed that any athlete is cheating, but if an athlete were to dope and refuse to test, there would be no objective way to indicate that they compete unfairly.
It is for this reason that there is a sanction for refusing a test.
It is highly recommended that athletes comply with doping control procedures and support fair play.
At all times athletes can make a choice to not participate in the process, but they need to understand the implications of their decision. Once notified of selection for doping control, an athlete should report immediately to the doping control station and provide their urine or blood samples. This is another consideration for athletes wishing to make their sport, their career.
Dr Aldeam Facey is a lecturer and head of Academic Programmes & Activities, Faculty of Sport, The UWI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Sport Pulse and Sport Matters are fortnightly columns highlighting advances that impact sport. We look forward to your continued readership.