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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Measurements & testing > Anti-doping: the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sport
Graphic element Anti-doping: the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sport
Background: setting the stage

Sport is a fundamental part of virtually every culture and society on earth. Few people can fail to have been inspired at some point in their lives by a sporting achievement, whether personally experienced or witnessed as a spectator. We find sport important and meaningful, perhaps as a metaphor for life itself, with its challenges to be overcome, its successes and failures. Unfortunately, the darker side of human nature is also reflected in sport in the form of cheating.

Doping is a method of cheating that has been around for centuries, even millennia, having been noted as early as the third century B.C. at the ancient Olympic Games. In recent years, sport, leisure and recreation have come to constitute one of the great areas of economic and employment growth on a worldwide scale, meaning increasing amounts of money for athletes and organisers and increasing incentive and resources for cheaters.

The HARDOP report

The European Commission has pledged to support the fight against doping in sport. A preliminary project known as HARDOP 'Harmonisation of methods and measurements in the fight against doping', funded in 1998 by the European Commission, set out to identify the research necessary to improve the way in which doping in sport is being combated. The project's final report, published in 1999, stressed the need for new developments not only in measurement and testing technologies, but also in co-ordination and education.

   Technical approach: advances in measurement and testing

The fight against the use of performance-enhancing substances by athletes is regarded as a very serious issue by European authorities. At the same time, the development and trafficking of banned substances such as steroid hormones is becoming increasingly lucrative, and advances in production methodology make them more and more difficult to detect. In accordance with the recommendations of the HARDOP report, the Commission is now funding a number of projects aimed at improving our ability to detect the use of these substances.


The development of synthetic steroids with the same chemical structure as naturally occurring steroids has made their detection much more difficult. The ISOTRACE project is developing new Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) technology to detect the specific isotope content of prohibited synthetic hormones. It will then seek the application of such technology at subsequent Olympic Games.


The misuse by athletes of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) is a long-standing and still growing problem. The project identified as SGLC/MS has two goals. First, it is developing methods for synthesising AAS, which can then be used as reference substances in drug testing. Second, it is developing new Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS) techniques for their rapid detection.

   Quality control: the ALADIN 2002 project

Drug testing of athletes has been shown to be one of the most effective tools in preventing the use of drugs in sports, but the quality of analytical results can vary and current regulations demand that testing laboratories first be accredited in accordance with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules. In the near future, laboratories will also have to be certified according to the ISO 17025 international quality standard before seeking IOC accreditation. This will require participation in external quality assessment studies to test the ability of laboratories to deliver reliable results.

Now, the European-funded ALADIN 2002 project is developing a proficiency-testing programme for implementation among European IOC accredited laboratories. Following ISO/IEC guidelines, it will also set up and accredit a network of centres as qualified suppliers of the proficiency-testing schemes.

Several centres will sub-specialise, supplying reference materials covering about 100 banned substances. A computer-based network will be set up connecting European IOC-accredited laboratories to guarantee adequate, fast, consistent and confidential distribution of information necessary for the inter-lab testing programme. The network would be open to non-European laboratories should they wish to join.

Project participants are confident that the harmonisation of methods and the implementation of an external quality control scheme will go a long way towards ensuring cleanliness from doping in sport for years to come.

Global co-ordination: WADA and the IOC

One of the greatest challenges facing the anti-doping movement is the global co-ordination of its efforts. While all recognise the goodwill and valiant efforts of the multitude of individual governing bodies, their authority has tended to be limited to particular sports and particular times of year, allowing loopholes for resourceful cheaters.

Through an initiative of the IOC and following the World Conference on Doping, WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, was created in November 1999 with the support of the European Union to promote fundamental values in sport. With its establishment, organisations and governments around the world are now united in their efforts to promote drug-free sport.


Meanwhile, a European-funded project known as CAFDIS, initiated by National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations, is working to support the efforts of the IOC and WADA. CAFDIS aims to set up a worldwide network of motivated partners and advanced information platforms for the exchange of anti-doping information. A website will help to gather and disseminate information in four areas: education, future trends, research and development, and laboratory matters.

The CAFDIS network will provide information on a need-to-know basis. The first-level audience will include athletes and the general public. A second level will include sports administrators, coaches and managers. The third level will provide information to laboratories, arbitrators and medical personnel. Finally, pharmaceutical, judicial and police organisations will be active collaborators in the project.

   For the future: research,
co-ordination, education

With the rapid evolution of doping techniques, including the increasingly complex organisation for trafficking in substances and the growing financial resources available for such pursuits, testing laboratories must constantly re-evaluate their working methods and means.

This ongoing process will require more frequent and closer co-operation between laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry and those involved in basic research. What has been described in the HARDOP report as a sort of scientific 'vigil' would allow anti-doping experts to anticipate new trends in doping before they come into operation.

The events that shook the world of cycling in 1998 illustrate the role played by police, judicial and customs authorities. The spread of doping among non-professionals, now affecting an increasingly young population, is quite simply beyond the capacities of sports authorities alone to counteract. Co-ordination among all the players is now clearly called for.

The lack of knowledge about doping in sport is also a key concern. A number of education campaigns are now being launched with particular emphasis on young people.

For more information about the European Commission's activities in the fight against doping, contact:

Education and Culture Directorate-General
Sport Unit (C6)
Rue de la Loi, 200 / Wetstraat, 200
B-1049 Bruxelles / Brussel
Fax: +32-2-295.77.47

Background: setting the stage
The HARDOP report
Technical approach: advances in measurement and testing
Quality control: the ALADIN 2002 project
Global co-ordination: WADA and the IOC
For the future: research, co-ordination, education

Key data

Research in the fight against doping in sports is supported under the Growth Programme's Measurements and testing generic activity.


HARDOP - Harmonisation of methods and measurements in the fight against doping;
ISOTRACE - Detection of illegal drugs by isotope ratio mass spectrometry;
SGLC/MS - Steroid glucuronides; development of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis;
ALADIN 2002 - Analytical laboratories for anti-doping control - international network;
CAFDIS - Concerted action in the fight against doping in sport.


What does the Commission do in the field of doping and support?

Click here to find out more.

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