WADA's anti-doping system costs $228 million per year

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s system to detect drug cheats costs at least $228 million per year [Source: Inefficiency of the anti-doping system: cost reduction proposals].

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Nicole Stratton
April 18, 2021 11:05 am

WADA’s doping detection systems are costing over $1 billion every 4 years, but even WADA itself does not have confidence in its own testing! In the Report to WADA Executive Committee on Lack of Effectiveness of Testing Programs, the Working Group admits that drug testing programs have been unsuccessful in catching out dopers.

Interestingly the report points out that the problem isn’t with the science. Contrary to what others say about undetectable drugs and insufficient testing methods, WADA says the real problem comes down to human behavior and politics. Governments don’t always provide an easy route for testers to enter their country and some athletes aren’t proactive enough to fight against doping.

And why would athletes be proactive against doping? There are examples of athletes who dominated their sport, but once they stopped after being hit with an infraction, their success dwindled. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts promotion, is notorious for athletes on drugs. During a press conference, Nate Diaz was asked if he was surprised that a fellow athlete had tested positive for drugs. He famously shook his head and replied: “Everybody’s on steroids.” The crowd erupted in applause; probably because it’s so obvious but for some reason we still try to pretend there is such a thing as clean sport.

Alistair Overeem is a heavyweight monster who defeated Brock Lesnar in 2011. He was undefeated but then was suspended for failing a drug test. After serving a suspension, he came back looking completely different and quickly lost his undefeated record. The difference in Overeem’s appearance after the suspension is so stark that MMA fans call him Alistair UBEReem when he was on steroids 🤣

WADA also says it is at fault because it doesn’t have the inclination to name and shame. If drug cheats have been caught and we really want sports competition to be drug free, athletes should know there will be negative PR. It puts some blame on governments that don’t have the political commitment to enforce anti-doping (no doubt some governments will be supporting doping) and those that don’t provide access to out-of-competition testing.

What is worrying about WADA’s report is there is an apparent contradiction. It says the science is there, but progress is impeded by human and political factors. But in the report it also points out that a weakness of WADA’s testing is that new drugs and delivery methods are being used that WADA doesn’t have tests for. So in effect, the science isn’t there! A world fully clean athletes appears like a pipe dream from this vantage point. MUCH more financial resources are needed but also collaboration and coordination with other sporting and country-specific agencies. It’s a morass of competing interests, corruption and complexity that makes anti-doping feel like an unwinnable task.

Travis Banks
April 19, 2021 6:38 pm

Doping is still rampant in professional sports despite a spend of $228 million per year. This is a reason why some people are against anti-doping. Although anti-doping is supposed to create a level playing field, the current state-of-play does nothing of the sort. One argument is if we do away with anti-doping, we know athletes will be doping, but at least each of them will have the opportunity to take drugs without being banned.

A counter-argument to this is that there is never a true level playing field. One athlete’s upbringing and access to resources as a child could differ greatly from another athlete’s. In the developmental stages of one’s youth, these resources could confer many advantages. But it we take away peripheral factors and just look at drug use, it certainly won’t be a level playing field if everyone can take drugs.

For some sports, ability is dose dependant. Let’s use weightlifting as an example. If you take some drugs, you get stronger. But then you hit a plateau. How do you overcome this plateau? You take even more drugs. Great! Now your lifting numbers are going up again. But after a few months you’re back at a plateau again. You can take a higher dose of drugs, but the side effects are starting to worry you now. How much are you willing to sacrifice your health for your sport? If anti-doping is scrapped and competitions allow all forms of drugs to be used, the competition will become a tolerance test – meaning it will be a competition to see who can tolerate the highest drug doses without harming their health. Everyone is different in this respect, and some might tip over the edge of what they can tolerate with fatal consequences. It’s just not worth it in my opinion.

But I understand where people are coming from when they are against anti-doping. Some countries enforce drug control. Others are very lax about it. Corruption is ever-present in the air of international sports. But this shouldn’t be a reason to go against anti-doping. We shouldn’t just stop anti-doping because some actors try to get around it. That would be equivalent to saying theft should be made legal because when it’s illegal, people still steal things. The problems surrounding anti-doping have to be tackled. Not the ideal of drug-free sport we are striving for.

I also believe that WADA and other agencies’ anti-doping systems, though they are imperfect, have opened the world’s eyes to the problems of international sporting competition. Out of the top ten 100m sprinters in the world, seven have been charged with doping. Anti-doping can’t catch everyone, but we would be silly to assume that all who haven’t been caught are clean. It means we can watch sports with a better understanding of the reality that the person who wins isn’t necessarily the person who deserves to win. It also means we know we have a lot more work to do before we can truly achieve a drug-free sporting world. It gives the global sporting community something to strive for and let’s athletes know that the secret they want to brush under the carpet is really no secret at all.

Ernest Vicente
April 17, 2021 6:39 pm

$228 million per year seems like a large expenditure but combating anti-doping is no easy task. In fact WADA has previously made it clear that it needs more money and resources. A large part of the problem lies with the drug tests themselves.

It is generally understood that drug tests are just not effective. An argument you often hear from people defending a particular athlete is that he or she gets drug tested regularly, so they must be clean. Well, guess what? Lance Armstrong got tested regularly and never failed a drug test. In his interview with Oprah in 2013 he admitted to taking banned substances for all of his 7 Tour de France wins.

Testing for performance enhancing drugs is below the standard it needs to be, especially when athletes you are testing have access to financial resources, doctors and carefully-crafted schedules. All of these resources help a drug-tested athlete know when to take drugs and when it will be out of their system. Detection rates are particularly poor if an athlete has been advised how much to take and when to stop taking a drug. By the time the test comes round, there won’t be any traces of the compounds in the athlete’s body.

We also know that racial differences make a difference to whether someone passes a drug test. To detect if an athlete has injected themselves with testosterone, WADA looks at the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio or the T/E ratio. If the T/E ratio is greater than 4, we can assume the athlete has been doping. But research has shown that some groups such as East Asians take a prolonged time to excrete testosterone, which means that testosterone in urine samples will remain low. It also means that an athlete could inject themselves with testosterone but still have a T/E ratio lower than 4 (Source: New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16749-anti-doping-test-allows-drug-cheats-to-escape/).

So the sophistication and complexity of passing drug tests is a tall order to overcome, even with an expenditure of $228 million a year. There are more sophisticated drug tests such as the Carbon Isotope Ratio test, but it comes at a cost of $400 per test. Administering a test like this to every athlete would sky-rocket the costs of anti-doping, but the world of competitive sports would be better for it.

Quinn Ferris
April 17, 2021 11:22 am

I don’t have much confidence in WADA or its drug detection systems. I’ve previously written about how the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness is a signatory to WADA’s ‘code’, making WADA a laughing stock to anyone who is familiar with the bodybuilding scene (https://plozee.com/1-million-people-in-the-uk-use-steroids-for-image-enhancement/#comment-34). There is simply no credibility to WADA or its testing systems if it claims to promote clean sport but then takes money from a signatory whose entire existence is dependent on drug-enhanced athletes.

The biggest controversy from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was Russia’s state-run doping program. In 2016 claims were made that numerous Russian athletes were part of an institutional doping program in which around 100 ‘dirty’ urine samples were replaced with clean samples (Source: New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/sports/russia-doping-sochi-olympics-2014.html). The lengths to which the Russian team went to cover up doping is bewildering. Urine samples from the official urine sample room were passed through a small hole in the wall to what was thought to be a regular storage room, but instead was converted into a makeshift laboratory by the Russian team (Source & Image: New York Times). The dirty samples were emptied out and replaced with athlete urine samples that had been collected months before.

These claims were later confirmed and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was deemed non-compliant with WADA’s code and suspended. However WADA later signalled its intention to reinstate RUSADA on the basis of accepting that institutional doping exists in Russia and granting access to Moscow’s anti-doping laboratories. The Movement for Credible Cycling sent a scathing open letter to WADA, making it clear that these conditions had not been met (Source: https://www.mpcc.fr/en/open-letter-to-the-world-anti-doping-agency). It even quoted some big names in anti-doping.

The President of the American Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart said, “This bewildering and inexplicable decision is a devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes.” The French Anti-Doping Agency published a press release stating, “Such a step would seriously damage the credibility that the world anti-doping system had just begun to win back”.

The Movement for Credible Cycling ended its open letter to WADA with a mic drop moment saying it refuses to be complicit in WADA’s dubious decisions.

Eduardo Silva
April 18, 2021 8:35 am

Is it a wasted $228 million? What if WADA spent $500 million per year? Would it make a difference? The point I’m making is that you could spend all the money on earth and athletes would still find a way to cheat the system.

High level sports is a cocktail of intense competition and life-changing opportunity. Coupled with an understanding that almost every high level athlete is on some form of illegal performance enhancement, why wouldn’t you take a banned substance yourself? It would be the difference between not even qualifying for a competition and the chance for high earnings, recognition and lucrative sponsorships. For an athlete, doping can quite literally change your life.

The problem for WADA is an ever increasing struggle to stay on top of PED evasion tactics. Having money to test athletes is one thing. But they also need to be on the ball with respect to new masking agents and new performance enhancers that aren’t detectable. It will always be an uphill battle for anti-doping organizations.

A lot of athletes won’t be taking PEDs themselves but under the instructions of a doctor, who quite possibly has administered drugs to hundreds of other athletes and knows the ins and outs of avoiding detection. WADA’s job is made much harder when drug administration is done under the watch of a competent doctor. Dr Rodchenkov, one of the world’s top experts in performance enhancing drugs, once said “All athletes are like small children. They’ll put anything you give them into their mouths.” [New York Times, Russian Insider Says State-Run Doping Fueled Olympic Gold].