WADA: Investigative Journalism Ensures That Sport Doping Scandals Are Visible

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By Ben Nichols, WADA Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications

As the global anti-doping community becomes more and more accustomed to the anti-doping rule changes that took effect on 1 January with the introduction of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, there continues to be a great deal of reflection on the direction that clean sport is taking. Since they were agreed on by both sport and government in Johannesburg 18 months ago, and more so since they were introduced at the start of this year, the enhancements to the rules have been widely reported by media across all continents. This has helped foster a greater understanding of where the focus now lies in anti-doping, and how the changes are being enacted: above all, through collaboration and transparency.

Greater collaboration that brings all partners – whether they be anti-doping organizations, athletes, laboratories, or indeed media – together in the fold was the underlying theme throughout WADA’s Anti-Doping Organization Symposium that was held in Switzerland in March.  During the Symposium, there were discussions on anti-doping organization-laboratory relationships; how athletes can confidently speak up about doping and finally overcome what was once known in the sport of cycling as the “omerta”; an interview from renowned New York Times reporter, Juliet Macur, with the most outspoken of clean sport proponents, Betsy Andreu; panel sessions on how anti-doping organizations can develop partnerships; and, an engaging discussion on how media can help the work of anti-doping organizations and vice-versa. All of these topics pointed towards a world of anti-doping in which so much more can be achieved through sharing ideas, assisting each other and being transparent about the challenges faced and the solutions needed to counter them.

It is the latter discussion panel, between the media and anti-doping organization representatives, that signaled so well how far we have progressed in anti-doping. We have moved on significantly from the early days when an underlying distrust existed between journalists and the anti-doping community. An era, in which the anti-doping community was perceived by some as a “closed shop”. As was agreed by members of the panel in Lausanne, there is now much better understanding of the rules and processes that organizations work with – and of course the importance of athlete rights that underpin those processes – and this has resulted in improved interaction between the two communities. If sport, government and athletes are seen as the three estates central to clean sport, then surely now media could be considered the fourth estate.

As the title of the WADA Symposium media panel would suggest, and as was confirmed by the consensus view of the panel members, media most certainly have an impact on the work of anti-doping organizations. Historically, and as recent events have shown, the media has played a role in not only educating the public on anti-doping, but equally importantly, bringing doping scandals to the public’s attention. As with any societal issue, the anti-doping community needs doping scandals from time to time to help shine a light on the problem areas.

Investigative journalism has been responsible in ensuring that sport doping scandals are visible. Indeed, in Germany, an anti-doping department was initiated within the broadcaster ARD in 2007, giving its journalists greater funding to investigate doping stories. Initiatives such as this are to be welcomed, as they allow doping to be scrutinized and the efforts of anti-doping organizations to be highlighted.

Of course, when it comes to the complex area of anti-doping, what is seen as being in the public interest must, importantly, be balanced with the rights of the athletes. It is every athlete’s right, following a positive test, to have their “day in court” hearing outside of public display, or, ultimately, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This topic was the subject of extensive debate during the media panel at WADA’s Symposium. It is important that the public realize that anti-doping organisations are not hiding behind ‘the process’ as a reason for not revealing an athlete’s identity following a media ‘leak’, it is simply right and fair for the athlete that these organisations are able to carry out their work without  having to react to abundant rumour and speculation. The Editor of Inside the Games, Duncan Mackay, one of five participants in the media panel, alluded to the fact that there was a much greater understanding of anti-doping rules today than in years gone by, and, importantly, the transparency and working relationship between anti-doping and media communities had vastly improved. This is true. Indeed, the World Anti-Doping Code rules today give the responsible organization a degree of flexibility when it comes to publicly reporting an anti-doping rule violation.  They may announce an athlete’s asserted rule violation after a B Sample confirmation, but they must announce the rule violation no longer than twenty days after the final hearing decision.

There are two other areas where media can really have an impact on the anti-doping cause. Firstly, in reporting instances of doping publicly at the appropriate time, and with the athlete having a fear of being “named and shamed”, the media can help significantly in deterring athletes and their entourage from doping in the first place. WADA believes that, in many instances, the thought of being announced as a doper would strongly dissuade athletes from contemplating doping.  In other words, the risk would outweigh the reward.

Secondly, media can also play a role in promoting the positive initiatives in anti-doping. We are beginning to see this more and more. Athletes across the world – through bodies such as the WADA Athlete Committee and through Outreach initiatives – are communicating the clean sport message to thousands of current and aspiring athletes.  They are letting these athletes know, not only what their rights and responsibilities are, but why doping is dangerous and wrong; and, that there is a better way:  the clean sport way.

Reprinted with permission from author.

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Bill V.
9 years ago

Here’s the thing. Investigative journalism and opinion pieces are two very different things.

Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill V.

Bill, here’s a comment from my good friend Ryan Seacrest, perhaps you should read it while wiping the egg off of your face this morning…

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

“If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Harry S. Truman

From the looks of the above comments, it seems there are some people that are willfully ignorant of the situation at hand, and wish nothing more than to bury everything and pretend it isn’t happening. Shouting down one of the few people actually asking questions is counterproductive. If people don’t like the idea that one of their favorite swimmers is likely a PED user, then they should “get out of the kitchen,” not force others to stop cooking for answers.

Here’s a bit of info about AAS(anabolic androgen steroids), aka testosterone and other hormones and their derivatives, that is relevant to this conversation:

“Steroids are for guys who want to cheat opponents.” – LT #56

AAS black markets and manufacturing are centered in SE Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central America. This is one major reason why the countries that surround these areas have problems with illicit AAS use, and why those countries are also the ones that are commonly caught using AAS and other PEDs to cheat at athletics.

“Be like a face of two sided coin, be ready for both happiness and the sadness…’ – Aziz Shavershian aka XYZZ

SE Asia – especially Thailand – is famous as a tourist destination to buy any and all the AAS and other PED’s you could dream of. “Famous” steroid users and advocates, like Aziz aka XYZZ, have died pumped full of an ungodly amount of hormones during AAS honeymoon’s in Thailand…We’re gonna be okay. Cry. The Aussies got hooked and the amount of AAS that travels from Thailand to Australia is staggering. It is an epidemic down under. It wasn’t too long ago a well-known ex-Aussie swimmer was caught manufacturing steroids using a horse-pill press. Classy.

I’d give a run down of the other two areas I mentioned, but here, see for yourself…the list of official FINA suspensions since London(note some dirty tests were overlooked and have been swept under the rug inexplicably, and experts that I have read suggest that roughly 3-5% of PED users fail tests across all sports – I would assume our rate is somewhere around there? But that is me just making sh*t up):

31 suspensions –

• Colombia diver cocaine
• US diver amphetamine

Water polo
• Serbia water polo cocaine
• Belgium water polo cocaine
• Slovakia water polo meth

• SE/East Asia:
o Korea swimmer clen
o Korea Swim test
o China swimmer tri
o Australia swimmer methylhex
o Australia swimmer methylhex + others
o India swimmer methylhex
• Eastern Europe/Central Asia:
o Russia swimmer epo
o Russia swimmer ostarine
o Russia swimmer ostarine
o Russia swimmer DHEA
o Russia swimmer dtest turanibol
o Russia swimmer methylhex
o Russia swimmer methylhex
o Russia swimmer methylhex
o Turkey swimmer metenolone
o Turkey swimmer oxilofrine
o Bulgaria swimmer stanozolol
o Bulgaria swimmer stanozolol
o Ukraine swimmer dtest
o Romania swimmer dtest
o Iran swimmer letrozole
o Kahzakstan swimmer test
• South/Central America:
o Brazil swimmer masking agent
o Brazil swimmer methyltest
o Venezuela swimmer methylhex
o South Africa swimmer andro

“They see me rolling. They hating, patrolling, and trying to catch me ridin’ dirty.” – Chamillionaire

The above list is a very small sample size, from our humble aquatic sports only, and you can already see that there are a few countries and regions that clearly do all of the doping. Should Russia even be allowed to compete for the next decade in swimming? Pretty clearly not. Anything that any Russian swimmer achieves for the foreseeable future, or has achieved in the recent past, is suspect, and rightfully so. And the really messed up thing about all of this is that…
A) more and more research is showing that several of these hormones could be extremely beneficial to athletes and laymen alike, and prescriptions for hormones that are on the banned list have skyrocketed in the last few years. While the public’s use, both legal and illegal, is growing, we are not changing our rules or even looking into the possibility of un-banning safe and beneficial substances aka we are inviting more cheats as time progresses. This is like our troubles with prohibition of drugs in the US. If test is found to be more beneficial than not, as cannabis has been, we will only begin to see more and more users both in and out of sport. Should we revisit why cannabis is banned, and even perhaps why some hormones are banned at low levels? None of this even touches the subject of structuring cycles to keep hormone levels artificially high but just under banned limits…this was Quick’s modus operandi with his women at Stanford in the 90s.
B) research has also shown that many of the benefits of cycling AAS are retained for very long periods of time, possibly for life. A 1 month cycle, once per year(a common strategy for weekend warriors who want a boost without negative side-effects of long-term use) has been shown to be dramatically more effective over the long-term than previously thought, and many believe the effects leave permanent benefits to the user in terms of, at least, lean muscle mass and strength capacities. The Jamaican track athletes went untested for up to 9 month periods leading up to London ‘12 while training in Jamaica. Clearly, all of them, including Bolt(especially Bolt!) were dirtier than Chamillionaire’s whip. And the few who haven’t yet been caught – because there’s only a few left – can stop using now, or any time well before competition, and retain the benefits of their past cheating ways for what looks like a long time. And this problem is nothing compared to…
C) as long ago as 2001, there were reports of fast acting Test products being sold to professional athletes through aging-clinics and supplement labs and being available, albeit very scarcely, on the black market. This isn’t AAS that your normal bodybuilder wants…it is designed specifically for daily(nightly) use, where you can pass a drug test by lunch the next day. These and many others are what allow a vast majority of NFL and MLBers, not to mention college football players, where AAS use is rampant, to pass all the drug tests they want, without a worry. Does anybody remember Barry Bonds? The cream? The “clear”? The “Vitamin B12” shots? He has yet to fail a drug test.

“Once and for all, I did not use steroids or any other illegal substance.” – Mark McGwire

“I wish I had never gotten involved with steroids. It was wrong. It was stupid.” – Mark McGwire

Anyways, I guess my point is that there are specific countries(Russia, China, Brazil), as well as regions(SE Asia, E Europe, S/C America), that are naturally suspect for cheating because they have all the AAS and get caught a lot. Buuuuut, I believe the rate of cheating by using PEDs is roughly stable across most populations that compete at the elite levels. The countries where steroids aren’t available on every corner just have a tighter system. Anti-aging clinics, scientist/nutrition laboratories, etc that are designed not only to administer the PED but to help it stay undetected. Those countries where the drug is available readily on the street, where commercial doctors aren’t available to hold an athlete’s hand through the testing process, just get caught more. And, of course, then there are the state-sponsored, systematic cheaters like Russia, China, East Germany, who will never fully be trusted again. The Pete Rose’s of swimming. Speaking of which, the totally not narcissistic Rose’s thoughts on the subject: “I think if someone connected to steroids made the HOF, that would increase my chances of making the HOF.” Thanks, Pete.

Those that say that the influx of money to the sport in the last decade have influenced things are dead on, imo. I recall a docu, but not the title, where a bunch of Dominican baseball players were being questioned about their rampant culture of PED abuse. To paraphrase their replies, across the board: “We use it to get to MLB and get a major contract. At that point, if we get caught, it’s no big deal. 100 games off, and we are stars that still command big contracts. Whereas without the PEDs we not only don’t get the big money, we may have never even gotten there in the first place.” So the benefits massively outweigh the risks. Same in swimming right now. If you are anything but a top 10 world swimmer, you aren’t making enough to buy bread ends from the local baker – you wait in the alley with the stray cats for the moldy scraps that get thrown out each night, like me. So you weigh your options, and decide that cheating is worth it, because if you can pull in $100k next year by drugging yourself to the gills, and the only risk is suspension, versus plodding along at $10k per year until “retirement,” of course you are going to cheat. Even worse is that same athlete, but with money at their disposal. Because you can basically eliminate the risk of getting caught by fronting the $20,000 overhead that this scam takes to an anti-aging clinic or laboratory like BALCO where you will get drugs good enough that you will likely never fail a test. It’s a bad situation.

My response to Barrett’s article is that I totally get that as a journalist he is in an impossible situation: either he tries to call out those whom he thinks are doping, or he gets lambasted in the future for being part of the media that ignored PED usage for years. Look at the baseball writers from the 80s-00s – the few that spoke out about steroids were attacked(and some survived, like Simmons), yet the public and the “future media” look back and drag the entire group of writers through the mud for not speaking up. Who was in the wrong then? The journalists that didn’t speak up and the public who was outraged at such accusations. Same now.

But maybe offering up a bunch of evidence(perhaps cited a bit better than I did ☺) and allowing people to draw their own conclusions on this issue would better get the point across than actually coming out and naming a name without evidence. That being said, yeah, there is a chance she is doping. A better chance than most others that we still consider clean. She is from Eastern Europe, swam at USC, maintains privacy and 1-on-1 coaching. These have all been tell-tale signs in the past when suspicions have arisen. If you ask me about any of the top 20 swimmers in the world in any event, I’d guess about half of them – maybe a bit less, on average – are doped or have doped. There are some that I highly doubt are using or have used….but I’m not naïve enough to pretend that there isn’t a chance, even a pretty good chance, that they are indeed cheating. I know of a few who have gotten away with it, that I am absolutely sure used. I has a sad about that.

“Welcome to American Idol.” –me

I do agree with the general sentiment that Americans aren’t getting enough scrutiny. Although they have a better record in this sport than most countries, and have by far the best developmental structure for younger and college-aged athletes, they also have the means to cheat beyond most other countries, access as good or better than most countries, and a rampant culture of AAS use in many other sports as well as fitness, bodybuilding, and among entertainers from actors to professional wrestlers to former rap icons from Compton who now own a multi-billion dollar headphone companies, or company, as it were. It’s everywhere. The former Governors of California and Minnesota are both admitted users. Obama has probably at least been accused of using by a healthy portion of the U.S. population that has managed to avoid mental institutions since their Savior Reagan freed them from their bonds. Perhaps I digress? Back on topic: we need to keep an eye on those Americans too, especially that Paula. She cray.

“I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance.” – Jon Stewart

Barrett is as likely as not to come out on top with this opinion of his when all is said and done. The real problem is the hordes of protestors that come on here and shout down the opinion like it has no basis in reality and isn’t at all likely to be true, screaming for censorship and boycotts and splashing veiled threats against the author in the comments. When their hero gets outed as a cheat, where do they go? Where are Sun Yang’s and Tae-Hwan Park’s fans that defended them to the death over the past years? They actively helped those guys cheat by shouting down any criticism. Actively. They were a major part of the problem, as are those attacking Barrett. Rabid censorship towards fascist ends defending every cheater out there, when we know, we absolutely know beyond any doubt, that there is a healthy percentage of athletes in our sport cheating. We should all be speculating about this, because this year, more cheaters will prosper, a small percentage will get caught, and more of their defenders will come out and be “Shocked! Shocked!!!” by such a predictable outcome.

Good day to you all.

Seacrest out.

Bill V.
9 years ago
Reply to  Paula Abdul

However, investigative journalism involves actual investigating, not just opining.

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