WHO On Doping In Sports: Now A Public Health Matter

April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The use of performance enhancing drugs, or doping, is a public health issue, not a sporting problem, as had been previously thought.

“If we believe that around 3% of high school boys in the U.S. are taking a steroid or growth hormone, then that’s a public health issue,” said Dr. Timothy Armstrong of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Substance abuse in any shape or form has a physical and mental health aspect to it. The WHO, being the lead UN (United Nations) agency on health matters, takes this issue quite seriously.”

Armstrong made his report at a conference organized by the Arne Ljungqvist Foundation. The foundation is named for the Swedish anti-doping official who is also chairman of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical commission.

Ljungqvist agrees with Armstrong, “This is a first attempt to highlight this matter as a public health issue, which in my view it is.”

“Elite sport plays an obvious role. They are the role models of youngsters and if they are drug takers, that is not the right role model for the coming society. I am so happy today to see these international authorities coming together and sharing these concerns that are being expressed and I hope that we can find common ways to deal with them,” he added.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Director General David Howman believes that what happens in elite sport has an effect on wider society and information sharing is crucial to attacking the problem. He states that in the last ten years it has become clear that there is a trickle-down effect into recreational sports and the high school arena.

“In Australia now, the customs people share their information with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA), and already 40% of their anti-doping rule violations come from that sort of information. That’s a very good example of how it can work when people work together.”

Howman continued by saying that the UK Anti-doping Agency has a similar arrangement with customs and police, who were providing information to the IOC. The anti-doping program that ran during the London Games was based on the intelligence garnered this way.

“My understanding is that it led to several cases that were discovered in the out-of-competition phase.”

Dr. Armstrong agrees that such cooperation between authorities and the anti-doping organizations is essential.  He also said that more data is needed to assess the full scale of the problem.

“Each of our organizations has a piece of the pie and can only work in the areas where we have a mandate to work. But we can join with our sister agencies such as UNESCO and other potential partners such as WADA and the IOC.

“We all require better data to inform prevalence – how many people are taking what substances and the adverse social and health effects as a consequence of that.”

One problem with anti-doping campaigns is, although almost every major sports organization has rules about doping, they aren’t consistent. An allegation of doping can ruin an athlete´s career and reputation.

For example, just two short weeks after the London Games ended, Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The agency had accused Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, of using performance-enhancing drugs. In August 2012, they stripped him of his titles and banned him from cycling, all without conclusive proof that he has used the drugs.

Armstrong isn’t the only pro-athlete to fall to doubt and allegation, as competitors in a wide range of sports and leagues undergo regular and surprise testing. Some of this testing is in accordance with WADA and some is not.

There are 258 prohibited substances on the WADA list, comprising six categories — non-approved agents, anabolic agents, peptide hormones, growth factors and related substances, beta-2 agonists, hormone and metabolic modulators, and diuretics and masking agents. These categories are completely banned and other substances are only banned for in-competition or certain sports.

Lots of sports organizations and leagues are not signatories with WADA, and so are not governed by their drug testing methods or penalties. For example, in Canada, the National Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Canadian Football League, Major League Baseball (Northwest League short-season Single-A in Vancouver) and Canadian Inter-university Sport all base their testing and prohibited substances on the WADA list, but are not governed by the agency.

WADA cites the sheer number of nations that won medals at the London Games shows that efforts to stop doping are working.

Howman stated that anti-doping campaigns allowed “clean” countries like New Zealand to win medals “because it actually gets rid of the cheats who might have otherwise precluded countries like New Zealand from getting them.”

“If you look at the other podium finishes from London you will find a far greater spread of countries than you would have in 1984, 1980, 1976, and I think that’s a really strong indication that anti-doping has had an impact,” Howman said.

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