By George Georgakopoulos &
With the London Olympics just weeks away, sports fans are particularly concerned about how clean athletes will be in the world’s biggest event as doping substances evolve faster than the tests to detect them.
The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), John Fahey, spoke exclusively to Kathimerini about the authority’s efforts to wipe out the use of banned substances by athletes.
The 67-year-old Australian explained that WADA is cooperating with pharmaceutical companies, Interpol and the World Customs Organization. He also said that there is a test to detect one of the newest substances being used (SARMS), exalted the use of the so-called biological passport and revealed that the Greek anti-doping organization will be removed from WADA’s black list this week.
Fahey also admitted that certain cities to have hosted the Games, including Athens, paid a considerable price in terms of finances.
How did you become involved with WADA in the first place? When was that?
I was appointed president of WADA on November 17, 2007, by the WADA Foundation Board on the final day of the Third World Conference on Doping in Sport in Madrid. I was elected by the government stakeholders and I began the first of my two three-year terms on January 1, 2008.
What does WADA add to your career?
My role as president of WADA is an honorary one, which means that it is non-paid. After a long career in politics, during which time I was Australia’s minister for finance and administration, I remain involved with a number of sporting, educational and charitable organizations.
Have you been involved in sports besides WADA?
Yes, as an athlete and administrator. When I was younger I played rugby league to a high standard and I remain involved in the sport as chairman of the board for Rugby League Development Ltd. I also chaired the commission that was responsible for the preparation, submission and presentation of the Sydney 2000 Olympic bid. One of the highlights of my career as a sports administrator was being in Monte Carlo in 1993 when the IOC awarded the Olympic Games to Sydney.
Having been finance minister during the Sydney Olympics, would you say that countries hosting the Games bleed afterwards, like Greece?
By “bleed” I assume that you mean suffer financially as a result, and experience shows that some cities have indeed found themselves in financial difficulty as a result of hosting an Olympic Games. I am delighted to say that Sydney is not one of those.
I understand the IOC has taken on board the difficulties some host cities have faced -- and are still facing -- due to the financial burden, and have directed host cities to reduce budgets for future Games.
Why is doping always ahead of anti-doping? Will anti-doping ever match it?
As with many problems in society, there are always people who wish to cheat the system and try to gain reward without putting in the hard work and application.
Sport these days is extremely big business, and success as an athlete can bring huge financial reward. Consequently, the resources behind doping cheats are greater than ever and this allows the suppliers to create ever-more sophisticated doping substances.
Our challenge at WADA is for our science to match and better that of the cheaters, and we are making progress on that front. There are a number of initiatives in place that have improved the sharing of information with pharmaceutical companies so that WADA can start work on early detection methods for pipeline products that have the potential to enhance performance.
We had success catching athletes cheating with CERA at the Beijing Olympics due to such a partnership with Roche, and we are confident of similar success in the future thanks to agreements WADA has with the likes of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
In addition, WADA is developing intelligence techniques that will allow it to develop information on the suppliers of doping substances. Intelligence is set to play a greater role in the fight against doping in sport going forward, and already WADA has agreements in place with Interpol and the World Customs Organization.
How do you see genetic doping evolving in the coming years?
WADA has no evidence as yet that there is any gene doping happening in sport. However, it has for some years now taken the lead in research into the performance-enhancing potential of gene doping, and first hosted a workshop on gene doping back in 2002. As with all methods and substances that have performance-enhancing potential, WADA continues to monitor gene doping very carefully.
What has WADA planned for the London Games?
WADA is not a testing agency and is therefore not involved in the testing program at London 2012 -- that is the responsibility of the IOC and the London Organizing Committee (LOCOG).
However, WADA will be sending independent observer teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games to provide daily advice and a written report on the program. WADA will also have Athlete Outreach programs at both Games and will also carry out its responsibilities regarding Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) as outlined in the World Anti-Doping Code.
Furthermore, WADA has encouraged all National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) to put in place comprehensive pre-Games testing programs to try and ensure that as few as possible doping athletes actually make it to London.
What percentage of cheaters do you expect to get away with it in London?
WADA is confident that the IOC and LOCOG, with the help of the pre-Games testing programs run by the NADOs, have in place the best programs possible to make London 2012 as clean a Games as possible. However, the amount of doping that takes place before and during the Games is up to the athletes themselves. They are responsible for what is in their systems and must take sole responsibility for their actions.
How clean do you believe the records of various sports’ superstars are?
There is evidence that in the 1970s, when there was systematic doping in a number of countries, records were set by cheating. There is no evidence this continues today but it is possible.
Apart from cycling, there have been no high-profile athletes caught for doping recently. Could the biological passport be the solution?
The Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) is an important tool in the fight against doping in sport, and one that WADA continues to develop. It is based on the principle of longitudinal testing where an athlete becomes his or her own reference point. It allows anti-doping organizations to monitor certain biological markers of an athlete over a period of time. Dramatic changes in these markers suggest that something out of the ordinary has taken place and serves as a trigger for the athlete to be targeted for further testing.
Already there have been cases whereby an athlete has been sanctioned on the evidence of their ABP, and these sanctions have been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Have you identified any new substances being used by cheats?
WADA is always looking to identify substances that have the potential for performance-enhancing abuse. However, it does not share information on specific substances in order to avoid giving athletes any form of warning. Once a detection method has proven successful in the sanctioning of an athlete then WADA will share this information.
Is SARMS a worry for WADA?
Selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMS) are prohibited under S1.2 of the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.
WADA takes every substance with performance-enhancing potential very seriously and monitors its use, as it does with all prohibited substances. What is of particular concern with SARMS is that this class of drug is not yet approved as a medicine for humans, but already is being sold on the Internet.
WADA has a test for SARMS. The implementation of that test is ongoing and already a large majority of the laboratories worldwide are able to test for SARMS.
Do you think there currently are any Greek athletes who cheat?
Evidence suggests that there are athletes doping in all countries across the world, and that no sport is immune from doping.
How good is your cooperation with Greek authorities on doping?
WADA has visited the Hellenic National Council for Combating Doping (ESKAN) and cooperation with them is very good.
Last November, ESKAN was one of 10 NADOs in Europe deemed non-compliant to the World Anti-Doping Code by the WADA Foundation Board at a meeting in Montreal. Failure to reach compliance was due to the fact that at that time ESKAN did not reach the required standards with regard to its anti-doping program and anti-doping regulations.
As with all signatories to the Code, WADA is mandated to work with ESKAN to try and help it reach the required standards.
Since the Compliance Report, Greece has changed its legislation in accordance with the Code, and WADA has again reviewed ESKAN’s anti-doping rules and anti-doping program. Consequently, WADA will recommend to its Foundation Board in Montreal on May 18 that Greece is deemed compliant to the Code.