For many years, all types of athletes, from cyclists to runners to baseball players have been known to use performance-enhancing substances to get ahead of the game, risking their careers and their health. Drug screenings are regularly administered to athletes both in and out of competition, to create a doping-free sport. There is a long list of banned substances, and it is the athlete’s responsibility to make themselves aware of what substances are listed, and to ensure that they avoid them. This ensures that competitions are fair, as well as protecting the health of the competitors. When a test comes back positive, sanctions have been known to include suspension, loss of medals, jail time or rehab. This article will give you a brief overview of how tests are administered, what they are testing for, and what happens after.
How Did It Start?
When being tested for substances, athletes must provide a blood sample, a sample or both. A doping control officer (DCO) will notify the athlete that they are being screened, and the athlete is then required to sign a form to acknowledge that they were informed. They must then remain in sight of the DCO for the duration of the testing. For blood tests, a blood collection officer (BCO) will obtain the sample. Once the BCO has collected the blood, he secures the tube, and both the athlete and the DCO check that the lids cannot be opened. The bottles are sealed in clear transport bags to be shipped to the laboratory for testing.
In the case of urine tests, the DCO must be the same gender as the athlete. The athlete must stay in plain sight of the DCO at all times during the collection of the sample, which must be at least 90ml. The athlete then puts the lid on the sample bottle immediately, before handing it over to the DCO to secure it in a clear plastic bag for shipping. If the athlete is a minor, they will usually have a representative present, except for when they are passing urine. The blood and urine samples are sent to an approved laboratory to be tested.
What are the Banned Substances?
The WADA (world anti-doping agency) provides a list of all prohibited drugs and substances, which is used to determine which substances found in the athlete’s samples are banned. Some substances are banned only during competition, whilst others are also prohibited at all times. For some it depends on the method of administration, eg. Inhaling, injecting, or taking as a pill. The list is updated annually, with a new one issued on January 1.
For a substance to be added, it must meet at least two out of three requirements: the potential to enhance performance, the potential to be detrimental to health, and violation of sport spirit. If an athlete requires use of a banned substance for a medical condition they must apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, verified by a physician. They must show that the substance is required for their health, will not considerably enhance their performance, and that there is no suitable alternative. The list includes:
- Anabolic steroids
- Hormones such as Human Growth Hormone, Erythropoietin, and Insulin-like Growth Factor
- Beta-2 Agonists
- Hormone Antagonists and Modulators
- Stimulants including amphetamines and cocaine
How Athletes Are Chosen For Screening?
An athlete can be chosen for testing anywhere, at any time, and selection procedures are both targeted and random. As testing resources are often limited, they are usually allocated with several factors in mind, including the physical demands of the sport, history of substance use in the sport, training periods and the competition calendar. Therefore, those who participate in more physically demanding sports are more likely to be selected. However, testers can and do test anyone, from any sport. Sometimes drug screening will be carried out only on a winning team or top three competitors.
Rights and Responsibilities:
During the collection of the sample, athletes have several rights. They have the right to have a representative present and an interpreter if one is available. They also have the right to ask for additional information about the process, and to request modifications to the sampling process if they have a disability. They may also request a delay in reporting to the doping station, only with a valid reason.
If they are in competition, they have the right to perform a warm-down first, participate in further contests and a victory ceremony, and fulfill media commitments. Furthermore, they can obtain any required medical treatment and photo ID. If they are out of competition, they may finish their training session, locate a representative, receive any necessary medical treatment, and obtain photo ID.
Athletes must fulfill specific responsibilities during testing, including:
- Remaining in plain sight of the DCO from when they are notified until the procedure is complete.
- Provide suitable ID
- Comply with the directions of the DCO
- Report for the test immediately, unless there is a valid reason for a delay
The Possible Sanctions:
While WADA provides rules and regulations for testing, they are not responsible for imposing sanctions on athletes who test positive; however, they are sanctioned by other national and international agencies. Penalties vary in severity, with some athletes only receiving a public warning, while others are suspended from participating for a season, a year, or even several years. Loss of results is a common sanction, whereby an athlete would have to return any medal or prize, and their victory is declared void.
In more extreme cases, athletes may be banned from competitive sports, or from competing at a professional or international level for the rest of their life. Athletes who refuse to be tested are also sanctioned, and often the penalty is just as severe as that for a positive test result. If an athlete has been selected, they may be asked to provide their whereabouts at all times, to give agencies the ability to test them anytime, anywhere. Failure to comply with this may also lead to sanctions similar to those imposed for a positive test result.