Elite sport can be like alphabet soup of organizations – AMA, NADO, UKAD, NGB, etc. – but what these bodies do and how they behave is vital for the integrity of sport.
That the World Anti-Doping Agency is currently investigating a NADO (a national anti-doping organization, in this case the UK Anti-Doping Agency) for letting a national governing body (British Cycling) do its own doping tests and probes before London 2012 is a big deal.
In fact, it’s a massive deal, and here’s why. British Cycling is the British NGB for the Olympic sport of cycling. An NGB plays many roles, but one of them is to develop elite athletes, send them to the games, and hopefully come home with medals. The 2012 Olympics were especially important for the UK because they were at home.
UK could be placed alongside Russia in gallery of thugs at national sports organizations looking to break rules in pursuit of glory
You don’t have to be an expert in sport governance to see right away that there could be a conflict if an NGB were allowed to investigate their own athletes for anti-doping rule violations. Of course, everything could be fine and flawless, but at a minimum it looks bad – really bad – for an organization trying to win Olympic medals to be allowed to control doping among its own athletes. The conflicts are real.
It’s not hard to imagine a hypothetical situation where an NGB is allowed to test their own athletes, and if they test positive, they could bury the result. In fact, we don’t need to imagine, because something similar happened in Russia during and before the Olympics in Sochi, as the former head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov explained.
Drug tests can also be used to identify detection thresholds or the effectiveness of masking agents so that athletes can dope but not get caught. We don’t have to imagine that either, as this is an allegation in the ongoing Alberto Salazar case involving the Nike project.
Sadly, recent experiences indicate that doping violations are rampant, and it’s not just casual athletes that have gone wrong, but also sports administrators and even governments.
It is very important that the World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating anti-doping in the UK
As WADA explained of its investigation into UKAD for allowing British Cycling to conduct its own anti-doping investigations: “Any allegation that an NGB could test its athletes in private, in an unaccredited laboratory, is at screening purposes for a substance should be thoroughly investigated.
This is why, under the aegis of WADA, independent national organizations were created to oversee the separate anti-doping investigations of the NGBs and the athletes themselves.
We can all have more confidence in the process if a NADO is in place. This is not only because of their independence, but also because they are required to access WADA accredited laboratories to assess the evidence. As WADA explained, anti-doping “samples should only be analyzed in laboratories accredited by WADA”.
At the 2012 Olympics, only 10 nations won cycling gold medals – and the UK took eight
At the London 2012 Olympics, 74 nations sent cyclists to participate. Only 10 nations have won gold medals, with the UK far ahead with eight. The second highest was just a gold medal, obtained by nine nations.
While WADA’s investigation into UKAD and British Cycling is ongoing, the discovery of efforts to circumvent anti-doping protocols would once again upset a sport all too familiar with the great doping controversies.
More importantly, it would put the UK alongside Russia in the gallery of thugs from national sports organizations looking to break the rules in the pursuit of national podium glory.
Professor Roger Pielke is the author of The Edge: The War Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports. He was the founder of a Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA, and is consulted as an expert in sports ethics, including by international sport governing bodies.