abuse in sports is a problem of truly global proportions. The International
Olympic Committee's Medical
Commission and the European Commission have joined forces to develop
effective and reliable testing methods as part of the worldwide fight
against this rapidly growing problem. Research into this area is a major
concern of the European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme under both
Growth and Quality of Life sectors.
doping are a contradiction in terms. If sportsmen and women change their
performance artificially, it destroys the whole concept of a sporting
event being a celebration of human achievement. However, it is arguably
more difficult to stop doping than to stop football fans from turning
to violence. The pressures on sport come from the insidious and powerful
forces of commercialism, politics, ambition and a shift in morality away
from respect for authority and towards personal gratification.
Commission takes strong line
the outcry over the 1998 Tour de France, the EU moved up a gear in
the fight against doping. In January 1999, the first European
Sports Conference took place. This was followed by the Hardop
report on 'Harmonising the ways and means of fighting against
doping in sport' on behalf of the European Commission.
Feburary 1999, a World
Conference on Doping in Sport, was organised with the participation
of representatives of governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental
organisations, the International
Olympic Committee (IOC), international sports federations, national
Olympic committees and athletes. This led to the Lausanne
Declaration on Doping in Sport.
theme of both the Lausanne conference and Hardop report was co-ordination
of effort. They addressed the need for global co-operation and harmonisation
of legislation, laboratory techniques and attitudes of sporting
bodies. The IOC and the EU with others decided to set up a new body,
Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), charged with combating doping at
an international level, completed with reference laboratory.
established on 10 November 1999 in Lausanne, WADA was given added
backing by the International
summit on drugs in sport organised by the Government of Australia
in November 1999 as part of the lead up to the Sydney Olympics in
held its first meeting in January 2000 with a second meeting in
March 2000. Secretary General, Harri Syväsalmi, is delighted
with progress. Representatives have been appointed from the EU member
states, the Council of Europe, the Supreme Council for Sport in
Africa, and the Olympic Movement, an executive committee has been
set up and WADA is establishing good relations with the whole Olympic
movement and public authorities worldwide.
Syväsalmi is realistic about the size of the task ahead but
also optimistic about the future. "This new body has to be
independent and act openly to establish its credibility, as public
scrutiny through the press will be intense. There is a great need
for standardisation on how samples are taken and tests are done,
and a cohesive legal framework. The establishment of our reference
laboratory and network of ISO standardised labs will be a major
step," he says.
are not pioneers here: Europe's scientists and governments are already
along the road towards common standards in control for example in
response to the ongoing controversy with food contamination. A lesson
is already being learned in co-operation between reference laboratories,
and we will be well advised by our colleagues."
testing is carried out with the same rigour and according to the
same rules worldwide, it will be harder for an athlete to claim
a test was invalid and discredit its results. At the moment, sponsors
spare no expense to protect their investment, if loopholes exist
to overturn a doping verdict. Challenges to doping accusations are
commonplace and can be ruinously expensive to the body being challenged,
combining to weaken authority and encourage cheating. But the WADA
is going to be well funded, with a budget of € 8 million.
what is making Mr Syväsalmi really happy is the 2,500 random
drug tests that WADA will carry out before the Sydney games.
action at a European level
public has an ambivalent attitude towards performance enhancers.
The majority of people see little wrong in using caffeine, nicotine
or Viagra while alcohol, cannabis and other 'social' drugs are widely
used. Governments urge people to be responsible for their own health
and restrict prescribing while extending what can be bought from
a pharmacist. The market for vitamin, mineral and homeopathic supplements
is booming. Anyone who trains for sport will find a range of performance-enhancing
substances of dubious benefit and legality.
Sport Unit in the European Commission
Education & Culture Directorate is trying to change this culture.
This unit is responsible for liaison between the Commission and
national and international sports institutions. In April 2000, it
issued calls for
tender to tackle various aspects of the problem of drugs in
will fund information campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers
of drug taking and the advantages of a healthy lifestyle and to
counter the culture of short cuts in health and sport. The call
is aimed at sports federations and government bodies.
Action II expands the theme of co-operation. It is paving
the way for harmonisation of national rules and standards relating
to doping, by making grants available for conferences and discussion
May 2000 a further call for proposals will tackle sociological studies
on the reasons for doping.
and research against illegally used substances or practices can
only react to a situation in which the substances or practices are
used already. However, the scientific pressure on those who try
to bend the rules is already intense and is increasingly sophisticated.
area where subtlety is needed to detect doping is hormone use. Athletes
started by injecting synthetic hormones to increase muscle mass.
When this practice was discovered, they turned to using identical
natural hormones. However, a breakthrough has been made with isotope
ratio mass spectroscopy (IRMS) which is an extension of the well
established mass spectroscopy technique. As the extra hormones are
not from the body, there will be a slight difference in the isotopes
(different forms) of atoms making up the molecules of the hormone.
Jordi Segura of the department of pharmacology and toxicology at
the Institut Municipal d'Investigació Medica (IMIM) in Barcelona
is in charge of the ISOTRACE
project, set up to investigate this. "We aim to improve the
sensitivity and widen the applicability of the existing tests, and
develop new tests and reference data. IRMS was developed in the
fight against illegal hormone use in animals, and we hope it will
also be of use to stop the use of nandrolone, testosterone and their
precursors, which we believe are widely misused by athletes."
consortium assembled includes leading groups from six European countries
with experience in human and animal testing and instrumentation.
"We believe IRMS has the potential to develop even more sensitivity,
and we hope to develop new tests for detecting illegal substances
in biological material, ready for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004."
If they can do this, the project will further enhance the reputation
of EU laboratories and SMEs as leading technological innovators
in the fight against fraud.
project is one resulting from the Measurements
and Testing generic action, part of the Competitive and Sustainable
Growth Programme of the 5th Framework Programme. It has only been
running a year, so it is just starting to produce successful outcomes,
and further calls for projects are being made.
into methods to combat drug abuse in sport is a priority of the
European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme. The initial calls
for proposals are in progress and research activities will be
in full swing in 2001.
The Measurements and Testing generic
action in the Growth Programme will play a key role by focussing
attention on developing effective and reliable testing methods
to fight the global problem.
ISOTRACE (detection of illegal drugs by
isotope ratio mass spectrometry) project is already in operation,
examining methods for detecting hormone abuse.