They’re the ones who have the most to lose, so let’s talk about the elephant that was in the room at the WADA Symposium 2019 and address why athletes deserve a choice of brands of the doping test kits they use.
But what about a back-up plan?
The Anti-Doping industry saw a tremendous shake up in recent years, with evidence of tampering athletes’ samples. With a large proportion of the industry using one brand of doping kits, there was no contingency plan, no plan B for a doping kit to be used if something bad happened – and something very bad DID happen. Consequently, the industry suffered deeply, and many were left wondering how to move forward. Some bought stocks in bulk whilst others looked for alternative suppliers – but whilst these methods differed, one thing was constant: people were dissatisfied with the situation they’d found themselves in. Now that we know the context, it is worth discussing why the need for a choice of different doping control test kits are required.
One brand of doping kits have been used worldwide over the last few years and how a monopoly such as theirs has even been able to take place given all the other regulations in the sporting world is a question for another day, but we wanted to touch on the notion of familiarity.
One brand of kit used worldwide means that those with ill intentions have had years to study and focus solely on tampering with one brand’s kit. Unconscientious individuals were able to become increasingly familiar with these kits and became accustomed to tampering with them. We at Versapak Doping Control argue that with more kits available to athletes (and essentially a choice offered to them), this risk is reduced. Authorities could furthermore look to randomisation of kits at a doping test, acting as yet another deterrent to ward off those looking to tamper with samples.
The illusion of choice
In the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, consumers choose between hundreds of brands and fall under the impression that they’re given a choice between product A, B, C, D & E. The reality is that core umbrella brands own each of these and so the notion of a choice is a false illusion.
This analogy is alarmingly parallel with the choice (or a lack thereof) athletes face with their doping test kits.
Step 4 from UKAD and testing procedures, here, states that athletes will be ‘offered a choice of sealed sample collection equipment’ (see below).
Currently there is a choice of kits but the choices are of different numbered kits from one supplier (the same brand), essentially making the idea of a choice null and void.
What do the athletes think?
We spoke to Paralympic power-lifter and Rio 2016 silver medallist, Ali Jawad, on the notion of a choice, and this is what he had this to say:
“Athletes are bound upon Anti-Doping strict rules on a daily basis, with even the smallest mistake scrutinised, judged, and potentially punished, ruining their careers. The strict liability rule is constantly drummed into athletes, as they are solely responsible for any substance found in their system. However, when athletes are tested they currently do not receive a choice of different types of sample bottles. The Berlinger situation has started a debate amongst the athletes about them receiving alternative options when it comes to testing and going one step further they should be empowered to choose from a range of different branded bottles. If they are demanded to have strict liability, why not make athletes 100% during the testing procedures?”
Following the doping scandal that took the world by storm over the past few years, Ali went on to add that:
“Another big debate would be nations who are willing to systemically dope, would find it more difficult to tamper with samples as they would not get accustomed to one type of bottle (if there was a choice of different brands). It is important that if Anti-Doping authorities are placing strict rules on athletes, then it is their responsibility to help protect athletes to the highest of standards”
Refusal = punishment
An athlete refuses a doping test kit, and that athlete faces punishment. But what if that very athlete refuses a test due to the cold hard fact that they’re only offered kits supplied from one brand – and, say if, that brand’s credibility was tarnished following a tampering scandal. Athletes work hard for years, controlling all variables and ticking all of the boxes, only to effectively receive no choice in the doping test kits they use. Alternatively, DCOs find themselves in a sticky situation as the torrent of negativity towards kits (or a lack thereof) comes back to them. So what do we suggest?
Practical recommendations for the future
We realise that individuals deserve a choice of the doping test kits. Whether or not this choice is given to a DCO or an athlete is an intricate decision that should not be down to us, although there is certainty in the need for discussions to be had and a decision to be made. Athletes ought to use their collective voice and take a stand against this injustice. DCOs should take a pragmatic approach to exploring suitable new suppliers that tick all the boxes. What are your thoughts? Let us know!
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