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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Measurements & testing > Strategies against doping in sport
Graphic element Strategies against doping in sport

Drug 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.

Sport and 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.

  European Commission takes strong line
After 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.

In 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.



  Global co-ordination

The 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, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), charged with combating doping at an international level, completed with reference laboratory.

Formally 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 2000.

WADA 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.

"We 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."

Once 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.

Finally, what is making Mr Syväsalmi really happy is the 2,500 random drug tests that WADA will carry out before the Sydney games.


  Joint action at a European level

The 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.

The 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 sport:

  • Action I 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 forums.

In May 2000 a further call for proposals will tackle sociological studies on the reasons for doping.

  Scientific research

Legislation 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.

An 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.

Professor 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."

The 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.

The 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.

European Commission takes strong line
Global co-ordination
Joint action at a European level
Scientific research

Key EU-funded research

Research 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.

The ISOTRACE (detection of illegal drugs by isotope ratio mass spectrometry) project is already in operation, examining methods for detecting hormone abuse.

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