ALI JAWAD BLOG 6 – Should Anti-Doping Agencies give athletes a choice of testing kits during an anti-doping test?
Since Russia was exposed to having tampered with athletes anti-doping testing bottles, it caused a pandemonium amongst anti-doping agencies, sports administrators, international federations, and the most vulnerable – the athletes. It still remains the biggest scandal in sporting history which has made many athletes question the integrity of the equipment being used to test them. Through this chaos and mayhem from the scandal, it made me question why the anti-doping system did not have a plan B or a contingency plan in place in such circumstances? The system became too comfortable with the testing kits, which led the system to be left behind by a coordinated, systemic doping programme. They failed the people they claim to serve – the clean athletes.
That being said, how do we learn from such scandals and what can be implemented going forward to make sure we safeguard the integrity of the drug testing process, in order for athletes to feel confident that their samples will not be tampered with? Currently, many athletes are familiar with one brand of testing kits that has been used throughout my sporting career. During a drug test, there is an illusion that athletes do have a choice in choosing the testing bottle in which to provide a sample. However, the reality is these kits are just numbered differently and are made by one manufacturer, therefore they are exactly the same. In a system where athletes have to conform to the strict liability rule, scrutinised for every little mistake, and taking responsibility of their own bodies, the system only provides them with one brand of testing kits with no choice which has been proven to be tampered with. It’s not a surprise that athletes are apprehensive during the drug testing process.
However, what if athletes had a genuine choice from different manufacturers? Having a choice has some advantages. It empowers the athlete to take control of the testing process which aligns to their strict liability responsibilities. They can make a choice from different brands to provide a sample. Another advantage is due to having many manufacturers, it may be harder for tampering to take place, as it does not allow the system to get familiar with just one testing kit. Before, the familiarity of testing bottles meant that potential doping programmes can practice tampering with bottles. But with different brands it makes it harder to tamper due to randomised bottles. What worries me is even though there are more manufactures of testing kits within the system, many national anti-doping agencies (NADA’s) continue to use one brand of testing kits.
Have we not learned that continued implementation of contingency plans in the face of unpredictable challenges is fundamental for the trust and integrity of the system? The system needs to take responsibility and impose a gold standard accreditation process which encourages NADA’s to purchase and give athletes a choice of testing bottles. All bottles should adhere to this gold standard and will have to pass quality control processes every year, to minimise the likelihood of bottles being manipulated and tampered with. This may not be the ultimate solution, but it is a step in the right direction that truly puts athletes first.