On the first day of a global anti-doping conference the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Dick Pound, made a bold statement: There is no such thing as accidental doping.
The statement comes as anti-doping officials are meeting in Johannesburg to adopt a new code that will make it harder than ever for athletes to use such drugs.
With many top-level athletes initially denying doping allegations only to later admit they had used performance-enhancing drugs, the new code stipulates harsher penalties for doping, doubling bans from two years to four in some cases.
“The issue that was raised by Mr. Pound has come from his experience in anti-doping, and the fact that he chaired a committee that we held to look at the effectiveness of testing," said David Howman, World Anti-Doping Agency Director-General. "He has a very strong belief that far more athletes than concede intentionally dope, and therefore the category of what he refers to as ‘accidental dopers’ is a small one. Now, I have been quoted for many years saying we have two categories of dopers, the ‘dopey dopers’ who may be in the category that Mr. Pound described, and the 'sophisticated dopers,' and it’s no surprise to me that he should use those terms. I think that what we need to look at very closely as we go forward — and this is mirrored in the code review — is the way to deal with the sophisticated doper, the intentional doper.”
Mark Cooper, head of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, says the idea of "accidental doping" may be a stretch, although what he describes as “inadvertent doping” does happen.
Giving the example of prominent South African swimmer Terence Parkin, Cooper says a combination of factors can lead athletes to inadvertently ingest banned substances.
“Terence won a silver medal in swimming at the Athens Olympic Games and continues to compete," he said. "Terence is deaf and Terence is also dyslexic, so would somebody please explain to me how I am expected to read to Terence the list of banned substances? It is just not possible. And yeah, it is reasonable to ask the athlete to have a common sense approach and to check everything, but you know, there are still parts of the world there where are high illiteracy rates. How can we expect somebody who is illiterate to read the ingredient list on a can of protein powder?”
South African runner Hezekiel Sepeng says a lack of education and awareness leads many young athletes to use banned substances. After being suspended from athletics for two years for testing positive for a banned substance in 2005, the Olympic medal winner says he knows of many athletes who have “accidentally” ingested such substances in their food or drink.
The solution, he says, is education.
“We need to teach our athletes. That means those athletes, they have to learn. There is the rules, man. There is rules. I understand we are from different cultures, but there is rules. We need to make sure, especially what we drink, what we eat.”
The WADA conference concludes three days of meetings on Friday, but teaching athletes how to avoid banned substances may take much longer.