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The Wada code: How invasive is it?

The BCCI’s recent refusal to become a signatory of the Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) code opened a proverbial can of worms in relation to the invasive nature of testing. More specifically, athletes are aggrieved that they have to notify Wada, or the body that represents them that signed the Wada code, of their whereabouts for an hour every day so that they are available for testing.

A previous piece that was written by this author stated that the BCCI was obliged to sign the code, regardless of its invasive nature, due to the lack of a viable alternative and what it implies about the BCCI’s stance in relation to doping. This didn’t actually address whether or not Wada was justified in its approach, so the question that is being asked here is: are they justified in their approach?

If you look on the Wada website, you can download a copy of the Code. It is a rather formidable piece of literature, being 134 pages long.

On page 14, the Fundamental Rationale for the Anti-Doping Code reads as follows:

“Anti-doping programmes seek to preserve what is intrinsically valuable about sport. This intrinsic value is often referred to as ‘the spirit of sport’, it is the essence of Olympism; it is how we play true. The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind, and is characterised by the following values:

  • Ethics, fair play and honesty
  • Health
  • Excellence in performance
  • Character and education
  • Fun and joy
  • Teamwork
  • Dedication and commitment
  • Respect for rules and laws
  • Respect for self and other Participants
  • Courage
  • Community and solidarity
  • Doping is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of sport.”

    So, it appears from an official standpoint at least that Wada do have the best interests of sport at heart. It is fair to say that most if not all athletes and organisations agree in principle with Wada’s rationale for the Code, if not the method.

    The whereabouts requirements set by Wada don’t apply to all athletes either. They only apply to a select group of elite athletes selected by either their International Sport Federation (IF) or National Anti-Doping Organisation (Nado). That is why elite athletes such as Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt are mandated to do regular testing. The same applies to the elite rugby, cricket and football players with their representative bodies being signatories to Wada.

    It must be said that Wada is not responsible for deciding who should be part of the registered testing pool. IFs are “afforded discretion as to who should be subject to these provisions internationally and Nados are afforded discretion to create a registered testing pool at the national level”. Wada recommends that registered testing pools be “proportionate and manageable size and focus on top international and national elite athletes”. That is why the BCCI holds jurisdiction over its top cricketers.

    In a Q&A, also available on the internet, Wada states that knowing the whereabouts of athletes is important for clean sport because “out-of-competition doping controls can be conducted without notice to athletes, they are one of the most powerful means of deterrence and detection of doping and are an important step in strengthening athlete and public confidence in doping-free sport. Accurate whereabouts information is crucial to ensure efficiency of the anti-doping programmes, which are designed to protect the integrity of sport and to protect clean athletes”.

    The rules now in force became applicable on January 1 2009. The rules were changed from previous efforts because Wada sought “to build on the practical experience gained by the World Anti-Doping Agency and its stakeholders (the Sport Movement and governments of the world) in the implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code since its inception in 2004. In 2006 this review began, with each draft produced between then and 2008 published on the Web so that they were open to comment. More than 140 official submissions were received by Wada from athletes, ADOs, and governments.

    The major changes that were instituted to whereabouts information were as follows:

    “The requirements for top-level athletes included in the registered testing pool of either their IF or Nado to specify one hour each day (between 6 am and 11pm) during which they can be located at a specified location for testing. These athletes do not have to identify the 60-minute time-slot at a home address, but they can if they wish to. Previously this was a 24/7 requirement.”

    The following constitutes a doping violation:

    “Any combination of three missed tests and/or failures to provide accurate whereabouts information within an 18-month period now leads to the opening of a disciplinary proceeding by the ADO with jurisdiction over the athlete. Sanctions range between one and two years depending on the circumstances of the case.”

    Now that the information is at our disposal, are Wada justified in their ways?

    Wada appears to be stuck between a rock and cement. If they do not enforce strict testing and leave gaps for offenders to skip through, offenders will slip through. That is the nature of going against the rules: if a loophole exists or a blind eye is turned, someone will take advantage. The other extreme is that Wada enforces the Code to draconian standards, and as such, is accused of violating the individual rights of those who they are meant to be protecting.

    It is an extremely difficult question to answer, but after reviewing their rationale, methods, provisions and conditions, it is reasonable to say, from this author’s point of view, that Wada are indeed justified in requesting whereabouts information from elite athletes.

    Does that justification skirt the lines of invasion of privacy? Most likely yes, but then again, most of us aren’t lawyers and it can be assumed that the definition of the invasion of privacy depends on its application and where it is applied. Wada’s method works on the notion of prevention is better then cure, and also merely the threat of prevention serves, in their eyes, to be an important tool in their war against dopers.

    It follows from the social theorist Michel Foucault’s idea, based on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design for prisons, where a single guard can watch over many prisoners while the guard remains unseen, therefore the prisoners don’t know when they are being watched and therefore regulate their behaviour themselves.

    Will it stop athletes from doping? Probably not, since athletes are always looking for an edge against the competition but is there an alternative? With dopers and testers fighting a never-ending war, where a lot of prestige and money is at stake, there isn’t a universal testing system that can pick up whether an athlete has been doping instantly. Cheats are getting smarter and testers have to ensure they can catch up and leapfrog their adversaries.

    Until such an instant, 100% full-proof testing system exists where it is possible to tell whether or not an athlete has been doping without having to know where they are for an hour every day, it is a necessary price elite athletes will have to pay if they wish to continue plying their trade at the pinnacle of their respective sports. There is too much at stake otherwise.