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World Anti-Doping Agency: The Case for Sports Governing Bodies to Break-Away and Potential Impacts

The Focus and Context

In recent times there has been plenty of comment at sports conferences, in the press and journals about the drawbacks for team competitions of the anti-doping regime of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This is despite the fact that its Code (regulations) continues to be widely adopted by sports governing bodies across the front-line of professional athletics, soccer/football and cricket. WADA was established only two and a half decades ago, well after the problems of drugs in sports became a major concern (around the mid-1970s/early-’80s). It is funded half by various governments and half by a range of sporting organisations, although not directly answerable to any of them.

The most notable professional sports not to have joined the bandwagon have been those of the mainstream USA leagues – American football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues. They have been content to operate under less stringent anti-doping regimes than WADA’s and seemingly without undue alarm by keen followers of these sports or causing commercial concerns (spectator numbers and revenues).

The purpose of this piece is threefold:

  • to review why WADA’s Code and its application has come in for a good deal of criticism,
  • for Australia’s Football League, known to be keen to break-away, to show the obstacles it faces and the steps that need to be taken to succeed, and
  • to consider the implications of a large-scale break-away for WADA and the Olympics Committee.

Present Position

Signatories to WADA’s Code extend to:


The international governing body now known as World Athletics (formerly IAAF).


The International Cricket Council – and all its members – have been signed up since 2006. (It put aside its objection to individuals having to disclose their whereabouts when requested.)


From 2006, FIFA has set the anti-doping rules for all of its members in line with the WADA Code and has a worldwide network of professional and trained doping control officers.

Australian Rules Football

Run by the AFL Commission.

USA professional sports – including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League – are not signatories to WADA. Instead, they have Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Unions that represent their players and each of these Agreements includes a negotiated anti-doping testing protocol. The players are subject to sanctions that are less strict than under WADA’s Code, though they must apply that Code if wanting to compete in basketball and hockey teams in the Olympic Games (baseball has been dropped for the 2024 Games).

Problems Created by Adherence to WADA

The problems with Wada’s Code reflect the fact that it was born as a creature of the Olympic Games and is wedded to serving the specific interests of the International Olympic Committee having anti-doping policies that are geared to competition between individual athletes and are also extremely hard-line. No input to drafting WADA’s Code was sought from the athletes themselves or the associations representing them.

In essence, WADA’s Code treats competitors in team sports in the same way as individuals who compete against each other at Olympics events. This disregards the very different nature of these two cultures. Team members have signed up with a club and agree to the requirements of the club’s coaching staff in an employer-employee relationship, as reflected in their contracts, whereas individual athletes hire their own personal coaches. A former Carlton player and a manager with the AFL Players’ Association, Ian Prendergast, has compared the situation of players to a construction worker being charged after getting an asbestos-related illness from his workplace: “Would we be talking about punishing those workers or about compensating them?”

Brendan Schwab has been the principal voice of dissent – in articles from 2013 onwards – urging professional athletes to gain more control over their own affairs, and have stronger rights as employees. He argues that national sporting bodies should break-away from WADA and seek to develop and apply their own anti-doping codes to reflect their particular circumstances and requirements.

Schwab is a lawyer by background who was co-founder of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance, the peak body for nine major associations representing 3500 elite professionals across a wide range of sports. In 2015, he was appointed Executive Director of the World Players Association (WPA), based in Switzerland, representing 85,000 individuals across professional sport through more than 100 associations in some 60 countries. The WPA has been particularly active in formulating fundamental human rights for athletes. 

He accepts the need for schemes that rule out, and impose sanctions, against use of performance enhancing drugs – whether potentially harmful or not.  What he finds unacceptable is the severity of penalties being applied by WADA’s Code for prohibited drug use – both in respect of intentional and unintentional use – and the very detailed and onerous conditions being enforced on athletes, such as having to be available for urine or blood testing at any time and frequent reporting of their whereabouts. In his view, these conditions represents a major intrusion on athletes’ daily lives and their privacy.

Regarding penalties, those applied by Wada are inflated in relation to the associated misdemeanours and therefore unjust as punishments. In January 2015, even stiffer penalties came into effect which accentuated the incentive of sports bodies to break-away. The standard penalty for use of a prohibited drug was doubled, becoming a four year suspension. The period suspended is deliberately matched to the 4 year Olympics cycle, so guilty athletes will be bound to miss the next Games. (The Summer and Winter Games are each held on a 4 year cycle, though with only 2 years between them to maximise spectator watching and revenue generation.)

This 4 year suspension period makes little sense when applied to annual/bi-annual international competitions such as the IAAF World Championships. And it is even less relevant to domestic sports – eg in Australia, the AFL, NRL, Cricket Australia besides a host of other sports – as it would prevent a guilty player participating for four entire seasons of competition. In addition, WADA’s recent doubling of the penalty for offences mitigated by “no significant fault” from one year to two years is objectionable. In reality, this will be a career-ending penalty in many cases.

WADA’s Code is also inflexible in that it represents a one-size applied to-fit-all approach. In drafting the Code, there was considerable debate over the right balance between inflexible sanctions, which promote uniformity in the application of the rules, and more flexible sanctions which better take into consideration the circumstances of each individual case.  Despite some concessions to “truly exceptional” circumstances, WADA has clearly gone along the inflexible route.

WADA also sees a drug problem where others don’t. Its approach to athlete testing is a reflection of its Code’s holy rhetoric and its quest for zero drug violations.  It fails to recognise that whatever penalties are applied, they will never totally eradicate violations and that, with random testing, catching a few cheats inevitably leaves a number of successful evaders of the regulations unscathed. 

The positive drug test rate for the Olympics has been extremely low over the 45 year period 1968-2012, averaging just 0.33% for the Summer Games – or 82 out of the 24,500 (or 1 in 300) athletes tested. During the last five occasions (1992-2012), the positive rate was as low as 0.26%. On this evidence, there is no general problem that needs addressing which makes the stiffening of penalties in 2015 unjustified as a deterrent. And this measure has had no discernible effect; the positive rate of tests conducted rose to 1.3% for 2016 and was at 0.9% for 2019.

The World Players Association (WPA), which has formulated a set of fundamental universal rights for its athletes, published in 2017, stresses the need for its members to be protected from WADA’s international regime. This, it argues, does not respect a number of these basic rights – including the presumption of innocence, rights for a fair trial, and just penalties. The WPA is intending to develop, in partnership with its players, tailor-made anti-doping codes that will have the trust and confidence of the administrators, players and fans of each sport.

There is nothing, in principle, to stop the governing bodies of private sporting organisations from deciding to adopt whatever anti-doping rules they wish to upon a break with WADA, subject to complying with government occupational health and safety legislation about workplaces.

Schwab, in summary: “The mandatory, inflexible, ineffective, unjust and expensive WADA system should be replaced by administrators running a country’s professional sports, to provide tailor-made and athlete-driven, anti-doping policies.” 

The intent of new codes might, in general, be to maintain the present emphasis on outlawing all drugs that have the effect of enhancing on-field performance, as well as any others that might pose a risk to player health. But some argue for a more liberal approach, such as Julian Savulescu, Professor of Ethics at Oxford University. He is in favour of allowing substances that help regeneration and recovery following damage or strain, so long as they leave the normal physiology intact, are safe to use and are taken under medical supervision. “Assisting recovery is not against the spirit of sport – it is the point of medicine.” (Sunday Age newspaper article, June 2014)

Then to be decided are the questions of the nature of sanctions for breaking the rules, and whether athletes/players in a professional setting are entitled to accept the advice from the specialists within their club and be fully protected without having to seek external checks. New codes are expected to be far less stringent than WADA on sanctions and to be sympathetic to “no fault” pleas by team players who are given false assurances by club officials.

Present Mood of Governing Bodies for Sports

Despite the context sketched above, there are few signs of national or international governing bodies of athletics, cricket or soccer seriously contemplating a break-away from WADA. This has much to do with inertia. An adverse intervention by WADA or its local arm seems to be needed for this to occur, as shown in the case of Australian Rules Football where the attitude has in recent times been keen on a break-away by its governing body, the AFL Commission, whilst continuing to condemn the use of drugs that artificially enhance performance. The philosophy is that AFL competitions are to be conducted upon the basis of athletic prowess and natural levels of fitness and development, and not on any pharmacologically enhanced performance.

In some countries, independent providers of arbitration and mediation services have developed, such as Sport Resolutions in the UK (founded in 1997) which has resolved a number of anti-doping disputes, and Australia’s National Sports Tribunal (established in 2019) which offers various forms of resolution for national level disputes and has a dedicated anti-doping division. However, referral of cases to such bodies doesn’t rule out a subsequent appeal by WADA to The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) if their central government supports WADA’s Code.

Potential action in the direction of self-determination by the AFL is, unfortunately, being stymied by thinking the Federal Government’s adherence to the Copenhagen Declaration is an absolute block. This document, initiated in 2003, was an outcome of the Second World Conference on Doping in Sport, supporting the role of WADA, agreeing to apply its Code to all sports in Australia and providing some funding for its operation.

The following section outlines the background to the present desire for change on the part of the AFL Commission before identifying the kind of obstacles that lie in the path to gaining independence from WADA and what actions need to be taken to surmount them. This serves to illustrate the kind of actions that some other governing bodies might need to take to break free of WADA’s control.

Australian Rules Football has a high profile and is big business for its clubs and their sponsors.  Centred in Victoria, the sport has a presence in the other four states – South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales – each having two clubs. In terms of newspaper and television coverage, this sport ranks alongside the national rugby league competition and well above soccer’s top flight A-League and inter-state cricket competitions. Other notable features, relating to the pre-COVID year of 2019, include:

  • Attendances averaging a healthy 35,100 per match, with 7.0 million attending in total for this 18 club competition.  This compares very favourably with Australia’s rugby league and soccer’s A-League on spectators per match.
  • The Game’s governing body, with headquarters in Melbourne, generated revenues running at A$790 million for the year (largely from media and other commercial activities), enabling annual operational support to clubs of A$310M.

The Stimulus for Self-Determination by the AFL

The AFL Commission was a reluctant signatory to WADA’s Code, agreeing to sign up in 2005 only after threatened with Federal Government withdrawal of its financial support. It was the last Australian body to agree to do so. Minds have been concentrated on the benefits of a break-away, and whether this could be engineered, by what eventuated following the Essendon Football Club’s blandly named “supplements program” – an intensive series of injections of drugs given to players during the 2012 season, designed to speed recovery and build body strength.

ASADA, the local arm of WADA, had been stimulated to act due to potential concerns arising from the Australian Crime Commission’s 12 month probe during 2012 into the relationship between professional sporting bodies, the use of prohibited substances and organised crime. The ACC’s probing identified widespread use of a new generation of drugs – chiefly hormones and peptides – intended to raise athlete/player performance, and mostly not approved for use in sport. They are easily sourced from a number of countries in the region and are very difficult to detect in a person’s body, and so guilt has to be based on circumstantial rather than “direct” evidence from testing blood and urine samples. Their use was being accompanied by an incursion of “sports scientists” and experimentation, plus a disturbing involvement of criminal elements. Suspicions were harboured about the use of these drugs at two other AFL clubs in addition to Essendon (names not made public) and subsequently at a further dozen such clubs.

The AFL offered to jointly undertake the investigation with ASADA of what was going on at the Essendon Club, lending its much greater coercive powers to obtain information from players and officials, whilst enabling it to share in information gathered and exert pressure on ASADA to accept mitigating circumstances for the players if found to have been taking illegal substances. Begun in February 2013, the investigation ultimately went a lot further than the AFL considered necessary or desirable. The 430 page “Interim Report” of August 2013, drafted by ASADA, was divulged to the AFL only after a lot of friction relating to the confidentiality of material and disclosure restrictions. Based on its detailed contents, the AFL Commission laid charges on the Club, its coaches and officials, and following a series of hasty negotiations it applied strong sanctions – ones roughly fitting for their respective roles and actions in the program. There was no formal hearing or evidence given by any party.

The Club was fined A$2m and barred from the 2013 finals series, and suspensions given to the defiant senior coach, James Hird (12 months) who was manifestly the fountain head of the “supplements program” and also to football operations manager Danny Corcoran (4 months); and a fine of $30,000 imposed on assistant coach Mark Thompson. Only the long-serving and conservative Dr Reid resisted, guilty of not intervening directly with the injections program or alerting top management or the Board – shortly afterwards to be let off a proposed three month suspension on threat of taking the matter to Victoria’s Supreme Court. Both the AFL Commission and the Essendon Board much hoped that this would be the end of the matter.

By the time sanctions were imposed, the Essendon Chairman, David Evans, and CEO Ian Robson, plus fitness coach Dean Robinson and “sports scientist” Stephen Dank had all departed – the last two sacked. Evans and Robson, blissfully unaware of the true nature of the program, and in shock, went voluntarily from a guilty conscience.

The fall guy, James Hird, had been enthusiastic about hiring Dank – a biochemist by qualification with a fair if over-optimistic knowledge of the effects of drugs on strength, repair and recovery, and a history of experimenting close to and at the frontier of what is allowed constantly trying to find loopholes to exploit in the regulations. Hird keenly supported Dank in his role at the Club, responding to regular updates from him about what was recently done and what was planned.

Whether illegal, performance enhancing, drugs had actually been given to the players was left as an open question by the AFL Executive, though publicly stating there was a material risk of this having happened in view of the large-scale of the injections program, its experimental nature and the apparent lack of systematic records about which players were administered what substances and when. These failures of internal control by the Club’s management and falling down on its duty of care to the players’ health and safety were deemed enough “to bring the game into disrepute”. This state of affairs was succinctly and powerfully captured in the report, delivered in May 2013, that Essendon commissioned into its governance (drafted by former Telstra CEO, Ziggy Switkowski):

“…the rapid diversification into exotic supplements, sharp increase in frequency of injections, the shift to treatment offsite in alternative medicine clinics, emergence of unfamiliar suppliers and marginalization of traditional medical staff, combine to create a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the Club in the period under review.”

The report also neatly undermined the assertions of Club officials that nothing ascertained to be “illegal” or “banned” was given to players, keeping an open mind on that issue and going on to warn:

“In this area of moving boundaries, as anti-doping authorities try to regain control at the frontiers of pharmacology it is unwise, perhaps reckless, for any club to approach this line.”

“An assumption was made by the Senior Coach that his instructions would be followed to the letter. In early 2012, there appears to have been no structured follow up, monitoring or recording of compliance with the wishes of the coach.”

From virtually the outset, the AFL were determined to have the players themselves treated leniently if thought or shown to have been administered a banned substance, given their vulnerability and the formal responsibilities towards them of the Club’s coaches and officials. This stance also suited the AFL’s commercial interests, serving to minimise the erosion of confidence in its brand and damage to the reputation of the League, and with it a threat to longer-term financial success.

Suggested deals were put by the AFL to ASADA about how a player’s defence of no culpability for taking banned drugs might apply in light of the exceptional circumstances and given the tough action taken already against the Club and its officials. But, in the event, the supposed agreements and understandings fell through, much to the AFL’s dismay and despite an attempt to have the Prime Minister’s office intervene on its behalf (PM Julia Gillard wanted it all closed down quickly for electoral reasons). ASADA’s continuing probing following the sanctions imposed on Essendon ran on for a further nine months, with strengthened powers, and eventuated in a two month hearing of the 34 players concerned before the AFL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal.

In March 2015, the Tribunal unanimously found the players concerned were not guilty of having taken any banned substance and absolved them from any wrong-doing. The practical effect was the same as the AFL’s decision not to sanction them, but for a different reason. This concerned weaknesses in the chain of events postulated by ASADA. The drug in question was a form of Thymosin referred to as TB-4, a banned peptide having regenerative properties – healing damaged tissue and speeding recovery. On the first of the three causal “links in the chain”, the Tribunal had doubts that the substance in question (TB-4) was actually one of those procured by, or on behalf of, drug dealer Shane Charter from said sources in China. Then the second link – that a supply of TB-4 was obtained and processed by a specified chemist (Mr Alavi) at South Yarra and provided to Stephen Dank in his role with the Essendon Club – wasn’t established to the Tribunal’s satisfaction. It was sceptical due to inconclusive and conflicting evidence and also uncertainties presented by Dank having dealings with a number of different customers. And so the final link was inoperative, this being that Dank administered the substance concerned to the players.

Bear in mind that whilst the AFL Executive had been keen to protect the players, members of its Anti-Doping Tribunal were chosen from an impartial group selected for their independence of mind as well as their expertise. The three in this case were two former County Court Judges and a barrister/former league player. It is therefore difficult to validly claim that the Tribunal were captive to the AFL Executive’s wishes. (There is, though, reference made in an email sent to ASADA about wanting to sound out the Tribunal members on what, in their view, would constitute a satisfactory basis for entering a “no significant fault or negligence” plea on behalf of the players.)

Then the apparent end to proceedings was opened up again by WADA, challenging the AFL Tribunal’s decision shortly after it was announced and taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). It did so apparently in order to avoid setting what it thought would be a dangerous precedent in such a case. Again, the standard in determining innocence or guilt was one of being “comfortably satisfied” with the evidence, which has come to be routinely applied in anti-doping cases (its origins dating back to the 1930s in a divorce case in Australia). This is someway short of the standard of being satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” as applied in criminal cases, and somewhat greater than “on the balance of probabilities” applied in civil cases – although no further guidance has ever been available on where between the two limits it is meant to apply. This is therefore left up to each decision-maker to determine for themselves.

In January 2016, the CAS Panel (of three QCs) overturned the AFL Tribunal’s decision, finding the players concerned guilty of violating the anti-doping rule of not using a prohibited substance and being “significantly at fault” in doing so, with substantial suspensions being applied – making them ineligible for the whole of the 2016 season. The majority of the Panel members found that all of the players concerned had been administered at least one banned performance enhancing substance – again the TB-4 form of Thymosin. They were to be found significantly at fault due to not doing their own checking of the status of what they had consented to be given and not questioning the club’s doctors, reflecting the WADA Code’s principle of personal responsibility.

Although the case was heard afresh by CAS, only one new significant piece of evidence was presented – by WADA, showing that a supply of TB-4 was definitely processed at a pharmacy in South Yarra specifically for Dank in respect of one or more of his dealings (though not necessarily destined for the Essendon players). But it was not decisive as the decision document states that the rest of the evidence was already sufficiently strong.

The CAS Panel members were determined on a strict application of the WADA Code and its specific obligations placed on individual athletes, and laid emphasis on the outcome of similar prior anti-doping cases (including the case of the sprinter, Tim Montgomery who in 2004 was found guilty even though he couldn’t identify what he had taken or whether it was prohibited).

No allowance was made for the crucial role of cultural factors at play in an environment where a team is trained by club coaches possessing authority, nor for the players having been badly mislead (duped) by the Club coaches and support staff, including Dank who administered the substances. (After being dismissed by the Club, he was later banned for life by the AFL from any involvement with the game.) No reduction was given on the potentially applicable ban based on a “no significant fault or negligence” plea by the players, despite three further mitigating factors:

  • They reasonably assumed the Club’s senior doctor had approved the injections program, although he hadn’t.
  • The consent form, signed by the players for four specified drugs, indicated that none of these substances were prohibited (which included a substance known as AOD-9604, actually banned and admitted to be taken by some players, though ASADA slipped up in assuring an enquiring consultant that it was permitted and so its use wasn’t pursued in the investigation).
  • Prior to the consent forms being handed out, the players had asked for a presentation setting out what they were taking and why, and confirmation that it was all WADA approved, which was held in early February 2012. The club’s two doctors, nor coach Hird, attended. Dank told the players what supplements were involved in the program, how they work, why they will help their training and gave assurances they were approved by WADA.
  • The Head Coach was certainly well aware of, and approved, the program.

A vital factor in arriving at the Panel’s determination was WADA’s adoption of a “Strands in a Cable” approach to marshalling the evidence and making out its case that the players were administered a banned substance. The CAS Panel also favoured this way of looking at things instead of the “Links in a Chain” approach (sequential steps to reach a conclusion) as used by ASADA in the AFL Tribunal hearing. The cable approach allows a wide variety of avenues to be explored. Whereas one disproven link in a chain is sufficient to invalidate a whole line of argument, the cable relies on the overall weight of evidence and accumulated detail. With many reinforcing strands forming the cable case put forward by WADA, scepticism or disproval of a few of the strands did not necessarily mean the conclusion drawn from the evidence had to be rejected. The cable may well be strong enough without them. (Both these approaches have a lengthy history of being applied to circumstantial evidence, though the chain is in general a more difficult test to successfully apply.)

The action of ASADA to bring a case against the Essendon players, the intervention of WADA after the AFL Tribunal’s acquittal and the CAS guilty verdict have all strengthened the AFL Commission’s desire to operate its own anti-doping code, along with the backing of the Players Association.

(For those wanting a detailed account of the saga, peruse Chip Le Grand’s book The Straight Dope, published in 2016.)

Obstacles to be Overcome by the AFL

To obtain Federal Government acquiescence to the anti-doping regime it desires – with a stress on the responsibilities of club officials and mitigating factors for players in an employee-employer setting – the AFL has needed to get its own house in order after the hurried and heavy-handed negotiations in private with the Essendon Club over its supplements program. This way of resolving the issues meant there was no proper testing of the grounds for the charges laid by the AFL, depriving the Club officials of a conventional hearing.

Getting its own house in order will require the AFL to make presentations to the Department of Health & Sport on the suitability of its proposed regime, including sanctions that are “proportionate” to wrongdoing and how it intends to implement the changes to existing arrangements.

The AFL has subsequently reported on reforms for a tightening up of club procedures:

  • Setting up a data base to accurately record all relevant therapies and substances given.
  • Use of treatments and supplements must have written approval of the club’s chief doctor and be monitored by the AFL.
  • Only the club’s medical officers are to be allowed to give injections.

The AFL’s Chief Executive has stated that similar cases in future are to be heard according to “a fair and transparent process”. To be convincing, this will need to be on the lines of what is commonly known as legal due process. The four main stages of which are:

  • Investigation: by the AFL’s Competition Integrity Unit (some 14 staff in all) and consideration of whether there is a case to answer.

  • Prosecution: charges to be brought by the AFL Executive (a team of 12 individuals) in light of the investigators’ report.

  • Jury: an independent AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal, to hear cases referred to it and reach a verdict of innocence or guilt in a fair and impartial manner. A full opportunity for the accused to be heard, make submissions and call witnesses. And referral to the Appeals Board if there are grounds for dissatisfaction with the decision.

    To protect the privacy of players charged and confidentiality of sensitive personal information, the Tribunal heard the Essendon case without members of the public or media representatives being present, which is the norm in anti-doping cases the world over. Transparency can be served by having a public decision document that details the charges, evidence given for and against and its assessment of it leading to the conclusions reached. (The Tribunal’s “Decision and Reasons” document ran to 131 pages, with the players’ names concealed.

    Alternatively, journalists could be admitted to the hearing and sign a protocol which forbids them reveal the identities of players in their accounts of proceedings.

  • Role of Judge: AFL Commissioners to determine sanctions in major cases (where the sanctions are not already laid down).

Although this structure implies a large consuming of time and financial expense for the parties involved compared with private negotiations, major anti-doping cases arise only occasionally.

Some commentators have called for a public hearing conducted, transparently, by an independent arbiter – an individual or panel empowered to decide the issue. However, a separation of roles within AFL on the above lines, if properly implemented, should mean this alternative will be unnecessary.

Implications of Widespread Self-Determination

A plausible scenario for the medium to longer-term is one in which a variety of sporting activities in many countries are able to gain independence from WADA and each sport develops their own anti-doping regime for international competition. It is then of interest to consider the implications for the chief interests potentially impacted: the IOC and WADA.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC)

The IOC regards itself as “The supreme authority and leader of the modern Olympic movement”.  Based in Switzerland, it is at the head of a gigantic and highly complex bureaucracy of committees based in various geographic regions. 

With many international sporting bodies gaining independence from WADA, the IOC would be confronted by a multiplicity of anti-doping regimes, one for each distinct sport.  If the IOC is pragmatic and is prepared to accept these various regimes, the Olympic Games won’t be threatened.  If not, and the IOC unbendingly adheres to its own code then it will, at best, be able to attract and run only skeletal competitions with relatively few participants at both the Winter and Summer Games. 


As noted earlier, WADA is very much a creature of the IOC, whose roles at present are threefold:

  • maintaining its lists of prohibited drugs in light of pharmaceutical developments – ie those assessed to be performance enhancing, or pose actual or potential harm to athletes’ health, or violate the “spirit of sport”,
  • disseminating technical and educational information about its drug use policies, and about available drugs and their effects – advising on the chemical composition of drugs, whether they have been properly tested, performance characteristics, side effects, and so forth,
  • undertaking drug testing on athletes for the IOC.

The fate of WADA depends on IOC’s response to a large-scale break-away. The key question is one posed above: whether the IOC would stubbornly decide to run the Olympics Games under its own anti-doping regime or, alternatively, be prepared to do so under the rules of each sport’s international organisation.  In the former case, there would be little change to WADA’s existing functions, but the IOC would only be able to attract and run greatly scaled-down events.

But if the IOC is pragmatic, and is prepared to accept a variety of anti-doping regimes, the Olympic Games should continue to flourish and WADA’s technical information and persuasive “propaganda” roles would continue, largely unabated, at the behest of the IOC. But its drug testing services would be curtailed, though these may still be required to some extent under contract arrangements to participating organisations.

Turning finally to the local arms of WADA (Asada, etc), these are a creation of a country’s Central Government and, despite operating at arms-length, report to a Minister who may direct the way it uses its powers and carries out its functions. Although these arms would no longer be involved as an investigator of suspected anti-doping violations, they could usefully retain their functions of:

  • intelligence gathering, and passing on to national sporting bodies any direct information from the Police, Customs, etc;
  • Devising educational programs.


An interesting summary, with some useful information about the Essendon case, often overlooked as a local issue. The potential for conflicts of interest in the current anti-doping system (testing, investigations, judge and jury) does not serve professional sports well!

Comment by Michele Verroken | 11:37am GMT 7 February 2023

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