All of the stakeholders in sport are fully aware of the high prevalence of doping and the dangers that it presents, both to the health of athletes and to the integrity of the competitions. Many of these stakeholders have a plan to deal with it. Unfortunately, their plan is to ignore the problem, pretend that it does not exist, pretend to attack it vigorously, and ultimately hope that the public will get tired of hearing about it. They will then declare the sport to have been cured of the scourge, and the public will either accept the vanilla or become indifferent to the problem.
Doping is not, as apologists like to suggest, merely a way of leveling the playing field. Athletes do not dope in order to become as good as are other athletes. Rather, they do it to beat the other athletes (even if it requires ingesting quantities of substances that may end up being harmful, or even lethal). In many cases, coaches, trainers, doctors and scientists encourage and assist athletes in their doping, even though they know that they are corrupting them and the sports in which they are participating. The enablers are, in many respects, far more culpable than the athletes upon whom they experiment.
Anti-doping rules are not arbitrary. They are based on an overwhelming consensus among sport administrators, athletes, and medical and scientific personnel who are concerned with the health of athletes and the integrity of sport. The most recent version of these rules (which is contained in the World Anti-Doping Code) was adopted at the World Conference on Doping in Sport last November.
The rules are clear and the measures they contain can be effectively applied, but they will only work if the people and organizations that are affected by them are committed to the fight against doping in sport.
Education, prevention, detection and deterrence are key factors for this effort to succeed. Those involved must know the risks and consequences of doping, both at a personal and at an institutional level. They must be educated about the health of athletes, the essential morality of adhering to the agreed-upon rules of sport, and the risk that corruption of the essential elements of sport may eventually lead to its collapse.
It is far easier to prevent a problem than to solve one. Prevention of doping is preferable to permitting it to infect sport and then trying to cure that infection afterward. Prevention requires energy and commitment and is difficult to measure – not unlike security measures, where success is measured by lack of incidents. Education is an important component of prevention, as is the existence of measures that may expose transgressions.
Human nature being what it is, there will always be some who care nothing about the rules of competition to which they promised to adhere. Such people will not be deterred from cheating by appeals to respect ethical standards. They may, however, be deterred by the fear of getting caught.
The scientific basis of detection has become quite sophisticated (as has the science applied to active cheating). Almost all forms of doping can be scientifically identified through the testing of urine and blood.
Deterrence is assisted by the imposition of sanctions. Athletes and officials who cheat should be removed from the sport that they have corrupted. An escalating regime of sanctions has been adopted to protect athletes who are clean, and to provide a fair opportunity for anyone who is charged with a violation of the rules to put forward an informed defense.
This system will work if stakeholders want it to work, but it can also be sabotaged by those who prefer to ignore the problems of doping in sport or those who persist in the corruption of sport.
The stakes are enormous. If organized sport is unable to rediscover its moral compass, its future will be in considerable jeopardy. Organized sport depends on support from the private sector. If the private sector loses interest in a corrupt system, it will withdraw its support, and the result will be the disappearance of international sport as we know it.
Richard W. Pound is the founding chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (1999-2007). He also served, twice, as vice-president to the International Olympic Committee. This commentary originally appeared at The Mark News (www.themarknews.com).