There is an abundance of information on anti-doping published by WADA, International Sports Federations, and National Anti-Doping Organisations. Anti-doping cases are also constantly being reported in both the popular and sports media. It is therefore somewhat surprising that athletes continue to fall foul of anti-doping regulations, apparently, because they did not understand their responsibilities under the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code).
A recent example is the case of a female Irish kick boxer whom had previously won a number of World and European titles. This athlete was found on in January 2009 to have committed an anti-doping violation by refusing without justification to submit to sample collection after notification.
The statutory penalty under the Code for such a violation is a suspension of two years. The Irish Sport Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel imposed a reduced period of ineligibility after they found that the athlete had no significant fault or negligence in refusing the test. The Irish media reporting that the panel “accepted that the athlete did not understand the national anti-doping rules and the serious implications of a refusal to be tested.”
How could it be that a multiple World and European Champion in sport could rise to this level without understanding her responsibilities under the Code?
This is in fact only one case in many where athletes have in their defence intimated that they did not understand their responsibilities under the Code and it begs the question do we need to increase efforts around athlete education and is it now the time to be assessing our athlete’s competence when it comes to their responsibilities.
The World Anti-Doping Code is the document that harmonizes regulations regarding anti-doping in sport across all sports and all countries of the world. It also provides a framework for anti-doping policies, rules, and regulations for sport organisations and public authorities.
The Code has been recently reviewed and an updated version came into effect on the 1st January 2009. Article 18 of the Code deals with education stating that the primary goal is “to prevent the intentional or unintentional use by athletes of Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods.”
The requirement “to promote anti-doping education” is clearly set out in the roles and responsibilities of all signatories. Each is expected to deliver an anti-doping education programme in order to create “an environment that is strongly conducive to doping-free sport and will have a positive and long-term influence on the choices made by Athletes or other Persons.”
The focus of education for athletes in the Code is on the provision of accurate and updated information on at least the following issues:
Substances and methods on the Prohibited List;
Anti-doping rule violations;
Health Consequences of doping, including sanctions, health and social consequences of doping;
Doping Control procedures;
Athletes’ and Athlete Support Personnel’s rights and responsibilities;
Therapeutic use exemptions;
Managing the risks of nutritional supplements;
Harm of doping to the spirit of sport.
This is an inputs based approach that does not necessarily lead to the development of athletes that have the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes required to meet their Code responsibilities.
What is needed is an outcome based approach that provides the opportunity for an athlete’s competence in their anti-doping responsibilities to be assessed and confirmed.
Such an approach would lead to knowledgeable athletes who understood their responsibilities, ensured they attended to these and demonstrated a commitment to drug free sport.
Ensuring that all athletes were competent in meeting their anti-doping responsibilities would in effect remove the defence or mitigating circumstances of “not understanding”.
Adopting a competence based training approach rather than just providing “accurate and updated information” are competent to meet their responsibilities or for those not yet competent, that more training and support is required.
The current favoured input based model is not a sufficient approach to the education and training of our athletes in their anti-doping responsibilities. Input based training may develop athletes who know about and can talk about anti-doping but it doesn’t confirm that athletes are competent to meet all their responsibilities under the Code.
To achieve this we need outcome based training that assesses that learning has occurred and that the athletes can demonstrate competence against agreed standards.
One of the advantages of adopting a competence based approach to training would be the assessment of each athlete’s competency in terms of their anti-doping responsibilities. This would determine whether the athlete had demonstrated that they were a) competent or b) not yet competent. If they were not yet competent they would require to undertake further training until such times as they could demonstrate competence.
The requirement to demonstrate competence against a set of internationally recognised standards could become an athlete licence. This could become a key component of the athletes’ WADA passport and could become a requirement to compete at international level.
The principles of outcome based or competence based training and education is well understood in sports organisations. Most coach education and an increasing amount of technical officials training is based on these principles. Different levels of award having agreed standards around which coaches and technical officials must demonstrate competence to ensure successful completion.
There is a need to stop athletes accidently incurring anti-doping violations as a consequence of a lack of understanding of their responsibilities. There is also a need to stop athletes being able to rely on a lack of understanding as a defence or a set of mitigating circumstances. This issue can be addressed by the signatories to the Code adopting a competence based approach to athlete education rather than relying on the current input based approach.