The World Athletics Anti -Doping Agency (WADA) was established in 1999 to promote, coordinate, and monitor, at the international level, the fight against doping in sports in all its forms. The imperative for the establishment of such a body is rooted in the fact of cheating by sportsmen and women over the years. WADA was therefore, set up, and as its core mandate, to protect clean athletes’ rights by detecting and deterring the use of dangerous, banned performance-enhancing substances and methods. Throughout its period of operation, WADA has succeeded in lowering cheating in sports by causing several sportsmen and women to be punished for using banned drugs. How have they done this? WADA publishes a Prohibited List; sportsmen and women are tested randomly in-competition or out-of-competition to ascertain whether or not a sportsman or woman had used any of the banned/prohibited drugs. Most of these banned drugs are performance enhancing medications, either taken before the sporting event of over a period of time to enhance body-endurance and/or performance. The WADA Prohibited List is the comprehensive document serving as the international standard for identifying substances and methods prohibited in sport. It is one of the most important parts of harmonization globally across the anti-doping movement. Broken down by categories, the Prohibited List identifies which substances and methods are prohibited in-competition, out-of-competition, as well as in some cases, by specific sport. Indeed, each country is expected to organize its own anti-doping system, which system would have to comply with WADA’s laid down norms. It is the reason we have US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). The Prohibited List is updated annually following an extensive consultation process facilitated by WADA. The main consideration for a drug or substance to qualify for the WADA Prohibited List is when it violates the spirit of sport. But more importantly, WADA considers two other criteria: that it has the potential to enhance or it enhances sport performance; and that, it represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete.
In spite of all the lofty ideas and philosophy behind the setting up and working of WADA, the global anti-doping body is riddled with problems, most of which came to the fore at the Rio Olympics 2016. An Independent Observer Team’s Report concerning the anti-doping program at the 2016 Rio Olympic Summer Games has indicated that there is need to revamp the work of WADA. The Report acknowledges “challenging circumstances in Rio…, including staffing issues, resource constraints and other logistical difficulties”. In short, the Report talks about serious anti-doping failings at Rio-2016. For instance, the report confirmed that, sample collection at the Olympics fell victim to the organizational chaos.
There are however, very serious issues where WADA’s activities are concerned that may mar the lofty ideals of the IOC and the whole Olympic Movement and other sports, if not checked. Logistics and staffing aside, WADA seems to be soft on some countries and widely robust on others. Secondly, it is not clear which substance would fall within the Prohibited list or fall outside, as sportsmen and women would have to take some substances as medication anyway. Thirdly, WADA may give exemptions to some sportsmen and women to the use of Prohibited substances; but it is here that discrimination is suspected.
Let’s take them serially. The Russian scandal is of interest here. There was an alleged mass use of performance enhancing drugs among Russia’s field and track athletes. WADA’s Independent Committee was ruthless, when it noted that RUSADA did not comply with the Code of the international anti-doping organization. Moscow’s Moscow anti-doping laboratory suspended their activities immediately and complied with all necessary recommendations of WADA. Yet Russia was roughly treated at Rio-2016; threats of mass ban etc. ruined Moscow’s preparation and performance at Rio-2016. The prelude to this were two documentaries in 2014 by the German TV Channel ARD, alleging that Russian athletes systematically took banned substances on instructions from their coaches. What is lost on everybody here is that same documentary had alleged that a leaked database belonging to the International Association of Athletics Federations contained more than 12,000 blood tests from around 5,000 athletes in the years 2001 to 2012. IN August last year (2015) same Channel further alleged that a third of medals (146, including 55 golds) in endurance events at the Olympics and World Championships between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests but none of these athletes have been stripped of their medals. These allegations got the WADA to crank the whip. Russia fell a victim.
Our second concern is the question of the list of substances. A comparison of each years Prohibition List would show how substances fall in and out of the lists. In the 2016 list, for instance, Leuprorelin replaced Triptorelin as a more universal example of a chorionic gonadotrophin and luteinizing hormone-releasing factor. Now, supposing an athlete was using the former for some time before it replaced the latter, why should he/she suffer in a random kind of in-and out-of-competition test? Our information is that that was the situation in Maria Sharapova’s case. Again, and this is interesting, if eating “kontomire” or any of our local foods may contain some banned substance, but which is staple, why should I suffer for it?
Our third concern is that of exemptions. It is a known fact that some sportsmen and women are given exemptions in the use of some banned substances. Why? Perhaps, without it, those involved would develop some problems. Agreed. But why not everybody then? There is urgent need to sanitize the activities of WADA. International sports must be devoid of politics. It is the reason the world regretted the episodes of 1980 (Russia) and 1984 (USA), when countries were openly urged to boycott the respective Olympics.
Africa, in particular, should be at the forefront of this struggle, because there may be lots of our herbal preparations that may contain substances that are banned, so-called. Also, we may not have the luck of being given exemptions, especially when our sportsmen and women are doing well. If we are beating the big countries, they will not take kindly to that and will ask WADA to be hard on us. Bye-the-way, how many Africans are on the WADA? Can anyone tell us? None!