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Anti-doping agency in sports defends new rules

Tennis number one Rafael Nadal says the new anti-doping procedures make players "feel like a criminal"

(Keystone)

The World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) has defended its new "whereabouts" rules for out-of-competition testing that has met a groundswell of protest among competitors.

Addressing journalists in Lausanne on Tuesday, Wada President John Fahey rejected calls for immediate changes in the disputed regulations that require top athletes to be available one hour a day for doping controls.

Fahey said the new system only came into force at the beginning of this year and appeared "less onerous" than what was practised in many sports before.

"We're eight weeks into this. I don't know of anyone who has failed under whereabouts this year; it's too soon," said the president of the anti-doping agency, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary in November.

Under the new Wada code that came into effect on January 1, elite athletes must give their national anti-doping authorities three months' advance notice of where and when they can be located for testing one hour a day, seven days a week, between 6am and 11pm. The information is registered online and can be updated by email or SMS.

Sanctions

Athletes can only be punished if they are not at a place of their choice one hour a day. Three missed tests in an 18-month period results in sanctions, including a possible lifelong exclusion from the Olympics.

Critics of the new rules include tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Andy Murray, footballer Michael Ballack, as well as skiers and rowers, who complain they are impractical or an invasion of privacy.

Williams called the rules "over the top" and "very invasive". Nadal said players feel they are being treated like criminals.

"I mean why not just have a GPS chip in our skin and they can just figure out where we are," commented women's World Cup ski leader Lindsey Vonn.

Fifa medical committee chairman Michel D'Hooghe called the new rules an "inquisition", while Uefa president Michel Platini said his football body is completely against the idea of players being available 365 days a year for testing.

In Belgium, 65 athletes have started court proceedings against the system, citing the European Convention on Human Rights. Wada says it has taken enough legal advice to make sure the rules are within the provisions.

Slightly skewed

"There seems to be a momentum of opposition gaining over the last few days that is probably a little skewed," said Wada Director-General David Howman on Tuesday.

"We've had various forms of whereabouts requirements in place for ten years now even though some sports are just confronting it for the first time."

Wada says effective out-of-competition testing is a cornerstone of anti-doping controls. To catch cheats, short-notice tests are crucial since many illegal substances can become untraceable within 24 hours.

"I think some people are just reacting negatively to change. But it's clear that we need out of competition testing because generally speaking that's when [cheating] athletes are doping up," said Howman.

Wada claims the new rules were introduced after a long consultation process. But it says it will continue to talk to the athletes and if there are "shortfalls", the system could be reviewed next year.

Howman met athletes groups in London last week to hear their concerns and Fahey will meet with government ministers in Germany and Spain and several leaders of international sports federations in the coming days.

Significant anti-doping progress

Despite criticism of the "whereabouts" rules, Fahey says considerable progress has been made against doping in the past year.

"There is far greater awareness in sport of the need to be clean," he said.

He puts this down to greater commitment by states to tackle the problem head on and better co-operation with pharmaceutical companies. He highlighted the example of the detection of the product CERA at the 2008 Tour de France and collaboration with the company Roche, as well as the possibilities resulting from retesting suspect athletes.

And Wada's proposed Athlete's Passport, initiated in 2006, could turn into "one of the most significant advances in the global fight against doping in sport" in the coming months and years, said the former Australian finance minister.

The initiative involves monitoring an athlete's selected biological parameters over a period of time, making it easier, in principle, to detect changes in their physical make-up as a result of performance-enhancing drugs.

"It may take a while to reach the finishing line in this fight, but I have no doubt we are much closer to that finishing line than last year," said Fahey.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Lausanne

Key facts

Wada's 2008 budget: SFr30.8 million ($26.5 million)
The agency's headquarters are located in Montreal, Canada.
Four regional offices in Lausanne, Tokyo, Cape Town and Montevideo facilitate the agency's work around the globe.
In 2007 there were 1,419 doping controls in Switzerland, compared with 1,714 in 2005.
The ADS intends to carry out about 2,500 checks during competitions and training every year from 2009.
Since the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999, the number of doping checks has risen from 120,000 to nearly 200,000 a year. The number of cheats detected was less than 2%.

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World Anti-doping Agency (Wada)

Following the 1998 Tour de France doping scandal, the Lausanne-based IOC decided to convene a world conference on doping, bringing together all parties involved in the fight against doping.

The conference took place in Lausanne in February 1999 and produced the Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport, which provided for the creation of an independent international anti-doping agency to be fully operational for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Wada was established on November 10, 1999 in Lausanne to promote and coordinate the fight against doping in sport internationally.

The agency was set up as a foundation under the initiative of the IOC with the support and participation of intergovernmental organisations, governments, public authorities and other public and private bodies fighting against doping in sport.

Wada coordinates the development and implementation of the world anti-doping code, the document harmonising anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries. Some 600 sports organisations have signed up to the new code.

To date, 108 governments out of the 193 members of Unesco have ratified the International Convention against Doping in Sport, the legal tool prepared and adopted to harmonise laws and regulations with the world Anti-doping code.

The agency focuses on seven areas: code compliance monitoring; cooperation with law enforcement, science and medicine; anti-doping coordination (ADAMS); anti-doping development; education and athlete outreach.

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