ACSM: Active Voice: Commentary on Doping in Sports

Active Voice: Commentary on Doping in Sports

By Gary I. Wadler, M.D., FACSM

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM. 

Gary I. Wadler, M.D., FACSM, FACP, FCP, FACPM, chairs ACSM’s Communications and Public Information Committee. He is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List Committee.

The Lance Armstrong scandal sits among the most high-profile, unprecedented doping scandals in United States sports history. 

The evolving story is about more than understanding the complexities of banned substances, drug testing and prosecutions. The real story is about the regrettable messages that this scandal sends to our youth who seek nothing more than fair and ethical competition. 

It is more than the tragic story of a gifted athlete—Lance Armstrong—who finally has admitted to his use of a variety of performance-enhancing drugs and methods. It is more than his accepting a lifetime suspension in cycling, losing numerous records including seven Tour de France titles and countless millions in prize money and endorsements, and apologizing to his family and fans. 

In years past, doping may have gone unnoticed by many. But now we are witnessing the evolution of a new world order in elite sports, one committed to fair play and ethical values; one whose troubled roots can be found in what was for 30 years a dysfunctional system of inadequate drug control. 

In 1999, a new world order emerged in the fight against doping with the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency(WADA). This was achieved with the collaboration of the International Olympic Committee, 33 international sports federations and 195 national Olympic committees. More than 100 governments, including the United States, signed the Copenhagen Declaration to establish the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

WADA is an international, independent agency composed and funded equally by the sports movement and the governments of the world. Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and the monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code. This document harmonizes anti-doping policies in all sports and in all countries. 
After several years of intense deliberations among scientists, educators, government officials, sports leaders and athletes, the Code established a comprehensive set of standards providing an international basis for anti-doping. 

As WADA itself was being crafted, so was the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the lead agency in the legendary BALCO investigations and now in the investigation of Lance Armstrong and USA Cycling. 

Now we are witnessing the groundbreaking intersection of the United States legal system to ferret out potentially criminal acts associated with cycling, while USADA pursues anti-doping code violations. All of this is occurring while anxious athletes await their fate from USADA, with threats of civil suits lurking in the background, and no doubt potential sanctions are being hotly contested among lawyers on both sides. 

The WADA Code makes it clear that a positive urine or blood test is not the sine qua non for an anti-doping rule violation. Non-analytic violations such as trafficking, distributing or inciting others to use prohibited substances carry the same weight as positive analytic tests. From a sports perspective, it will be for the hearing bodies to decide what weight should be attached to emails, cancelled checks and Federal Express envelopes, and the criminal investigations will have their own outcomes. 

Whether their alleged violations are analytical or non-analytical, it is imperative that athletes be accorded due process. None of us would want it any other way. We believe that the World Anti-Doping Code, when carefully studied, will give pause to those who are so outraged with allegations of the lack of due process. 

While so much of the national dialogue has centered on violations of law and the rules of sport, we must not take our eyes off the ball. Performance-enhancing drug abuse is not limited to elite athletes. With surveys revealing that more than 2.5 percent of eighth-graders have used anabolic steroids, it should compel us as a nation to move the issue from the sports pages to the front pages as has been done by the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which I served as founding chairman. 

When, in 1988, Ben Johnson disgraced his country by cheating with steroids, Canada reacted as a nation with its Dubin Commission to address that shameful event in their sports history. Recent events underscore that now is the time for America’s moment of national introspection so that we, too, can right our ship in the name of drug-free sport. 

Editorial Note: In July 2007, ACSM leading and in collaboration with USADA, launched the Professionals Against Doping (PADS) initiative. The targeted mission of PADS is to promote development of anti-doping rules in sports organizations, foster educational programs in communities that address on the issues, hazards and solutions to this problem, and broadly support drug-free sport. Visit the PADS website, join the initiative, and help promote the mission.