UKAD storm may put Great Britain alongside Russia in the rogues gallery of rule breakers 


This UKAD storm could put Great Britain alongside Russia in the rogues gallery of rule breakers – how these organisations conduct themselves is vital to the integrity of sport

  • It is a big deal that the World Anti-Doping Agency are now investigating UKAD  
  • Drug testing can be used to identify thresholds of detection or the effectiveness of masking agents so that athletes can dope but not be caught
  • Regrettably, recent experiences indicate that doping violations are endemic 

Elite sport can sound like an alphabet soup of organisations – WADA, NADO, UKAD, NGB, and on – but what these bodies do, and how they conduct themselves, is vital to the integrity of sport.

That the World Anti-Doping Agency are now investigating a NADO (a national anti-doping organisation, in this case, UK Anti-Doping Agency) for letting a National Governing Body (British Cycling) do their own anti-doping probes and tests before London 2012 is a big deal.

In fact, it’s a massive deal, and here is why. British Cycling is the UK NGB for the Olympic sport of cycling. An NGB plays many roles, but among them is to develop elite athletes, send them to the Games and hopefully return home with medals. The 2012 Olympic Games were particularly important for the UK because they were at home.

The UK may be put alongside Russia in the rogue’s gallery of national sports organisations seeking to break rules in pursuit of glory

The UK may be put alongside Russia in the rogue’s gallery of national sports organisations seeking to break rules in pursuit of glory

One doesn’t have to be a sports governance expert to see right away that there might be a conflict if an NGB were allowed to investigate its own athletes for anti-doping violations. Sure, everything might go fine and be above board, but at the minimum it looks bad – really bad – for an organisation trying to win Olympic medals to be allowed to police doping among its own athletes. The conflicts are real.

It is not hard to imagine a hypothetical situation where an NGB is allowed to test its own athletes and, in the event of a positive test, they might bury the result. Actually, we don’t need to imagine, as something similar happened in Russia during and in advance of the Sochi Olympic Games, as exposed by the former head of Russia’s anti-doping lab Grigory Rodchenkov.

Drug testing can also be used to identify thresholds of detection or the effectiveness of masking agents so that athletes can dope but not be caught. We don’t have to imagine this either, as it is an allegation of the Alberto Salazar case involving the Nike Project. Regrettably, recent experiences indicate that doping violations are endemic, and it is not just the occasional athlete gone wrong, but also sport administrators and even governments.

The fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating UK Anti-Doping is a very big deal

The fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating UK Anti-Doping is a very big deal

As WADA explains of its probe into UKAD for allowing British Cycling to conduct its own anti-doping investigations: ‘Any allegation that an NGB may be testing their athletes in private, in a non-accredited lab, for the purposes of screening for a prohibited substance should be investigated thoroughly.’ 

This is why, under the umbrella of WADA, independent national organisations are established to oversee anti-doping investigations separate from the NGBs and of the athletes themselves.

We can all have more trust in the process if a NADO is on the job. This is not just because of their independence but also because they are required to access WADA-accredited labs to evaluate evidence. As WADA explains, anti-doping ‘samples shall be analysed only in WADA-accredited laboratories’.

At the 2012 Olympics, only 10 nations won gold medals in cycling - and the UK clinched eight

At the 2012 Olympics, only 10 nations won gold medals in cycling – and the UK clinched eight

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, 74 nations sent cyclists to compete. Only 10 nations won gold medals, with the UK far out in front with eight. The next highest was just one gold, achieved by nine nations. 

While the WADA investigation of UKAD and British Cycling is just under way, a finding of efforts to evade anti-doping protocols would again rock a sport all too familiar with major doping controversies. 

More significantly, it would place the UK alongside Russia in the rogue’s gallery of national sports organisations seeking to break rules in pursuit of national podium glory.

Prof Roger Pielke is the author of The Edge: The War Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports. He was founder of a Sports Governance Centre at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, and is consulted as an expert in sports ethics, including by international sports governing bodies.

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