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Doping code calls for changes

Wada head, Richard Pound, at the closing ceremony

(Keystone)

Officials attending the Third World Conference on Doping in Sport have approved tougher measures to combat the use of banned substances.

A leading Swiss expert says the revised code is necessary, as experience has shown that current rules are far too rigid and that education needs to be reinforced.

The most significant change to the code ratified on Saturday in Madrid is allowing an increase from a two-year suspension to a four-year ban for a first offence in "aggravating circumstances".

That would include use of substances whose performance-enhancing effects remain in the body for more than two years, including certain steroids.

Reduced penalties can be applied if athletes can prove the substance is not intended to enhance performance, or if they admit to doping or help authorities catch other drug cheats.

The International Olympic Committee, which is one of the main political and financial supporters of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), raised concerns about several elements of the code.

This included criticism that Wada was dropping a previous commitment to conduct out-of-competition drug testing and that there was no mechanism to monitor compliance of the code.

Too rigid

But Mathias Kamber, head of doping prevention at Switzerland's Federal Sport Office, said the previous sanction system was too rigid.

"If, for example, someone took a medication inadvertently, the sanctions were too harsh," he told swissinfo. "In other cases, you knew a person had really cheated on a regular basis but the sanctions were too low."

For Switzerland, doping is no more a problem than in other western European countries, and 50 per cent of cases where drugs are detected involve cannabis.

Recently, however, former world number one tennis player Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon.

Top Swiss cyclists have also been caught over the years, as was, Brigitte McMahon, who tested positive for Epo in 2005 - five years after winning gold in the triathlon at the Sydney Olympics.

More integrated system

To deal with doping, Wada is suggesting a slight move away from repression, even if it wants more cooperation with police and investigating authorities to find out who the suppliers are.

Instead, it is suggesting other approaches.

"We need a more integrated system to fight doping," said Kamber. "That means we don't need just controls, but also information, education and research.

"We also need international networking because sport is a global phenomenon. Athletes move around and we need to find them so we can test them."

Research might include developing protein maps of athletes to detect changes in their metabolism brought on by doping. The International Cycling Union has already proposed the creation of a blood passport for cyclists as a way of detecting drug cheats.

All of this costs money, though. Wada is short of funds and seriously considering calling on sponsors in the future to make ends meet.

"If you compare the money spent on sport compared with anti-doping, there is a huge gap," Kamber said.

In his speech at the Wada meeting, United Nations special advisor on sport and former Swiss cabinet member Adolf Ogi said the 2008 Olympics in Beijing would be a testing ground for the future of sport.

"Doping is a threat to the very foundation of society," Ogi said. He called for drug controls to be independent, transparent and verifiable.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Doping

In sports, doping refers to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly those that are forbidden by the organisations that regulate competitions.

Another form of doping is blood doping, either by blood transfusion or use of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). Also considered "doping" by many is the use of substances that mask other forms of doping.

Performance-enhancing drugs also carry health risks, compromise the level playing-field for all athletes and cheat spectators of a fair competition.

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New Wada president

Former Australian finance minister John Fahey - the lone candidate - was elected to succeed Richard Pound as head of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The European Council of Ministers had formally asked for a six-month postponement, saying more time was needed to find a consensus candidate.

But Pound rebuffed the move, saying nominations had closed in September.

Fahey became the sole candidate after former French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour, the longtime favorite, pulled out.

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