On June 26, 2014, on the island of Fiji, participants from seven Pacific island nations – American Samoa, Cook Island, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu – successfully completed their Play True Anti-Doping Masters Education training.i Given the global reach of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its pedagogical ambitions, it is no longer surprising to find “anti-doping education” of one kind or another working its way into every populated nook and cranny on the planet. Indeed, WADA just chaperoned a working relationship between the Slovenian Dance Federation and the Slovenian anti-doping organization. ii Astonishing, but true. So if you think drug-testing in Danish fitness clubs is intrusive, just imagine what the future may hold for other social venues involving any sort of competition whatsoever. iii
“Anti-doping education” can take two fundamentally different forms that address athletes: a disciplinary version of “education” that is rooted in deterrence and punishment, or a “moral education” that takes the honesty of most people for granted and relies on the power of persuasion rather than the harder discipline of inflicting penalties.
Today the standard model of anti-doping education combines both approaches into one program: the principle of deterrence is there to backstop attempts to persuade athletes that honesty and abstinence from performance-enhancing drugs are a fundamental obligation of competitive athletes. The purely practical sort of anti-doping education involves training sports officials in the anti-doping protocols and making sure they try to get athletes not to take the drugs and supplements that are on WADA’s banned list. WADA offers The Teacher’s Toolkit, which includes a Youth Module (ages 10-12) and a Teen Module (ages 3-16), and The Physician’s Toolkit. There are interactive online anti-doping activities and there is much inspirational sloganeering (“Say NO to Doping,” etc.).
The shortcomings of WADA’s global exertions became painfully clear in 2013 when former WADA-president Richard Pound (2000-2007) said: “’I certainly question everything I see now, in all sports. It’s pretty clear just from the numbers of people being caught that drug use is rampant, and it’s rampant at the top end of sports. ‘This isn’t people ranked at No 300 taking drugs to boost them up the rankings, it’s the people at the top who have used drugs to get there. I believe it’s happening across sports.” iv
How can anti-doping education – or, for that matter, the WADA regime as a whole – justify itself in the face of such candor from the godfather of the global anti-doping campaign? The answer is that WADA and its allies struggle along as best they can in what appear to be impossible circumstances. “We can’t win the war. We can’t,” WADA director general David Howman said in 2012. “That’s just not possible. But we can win battles along the way.” v So the response to this daunting situation has been to do as much testing as possible, issue proclamations, promulgate slogans, and promote WADA’s online anti-doping games on the Web.
Nor should we overlook the enormous commercial interests that are at stake. In this sense, the global anti-doping campaign is a public relations strategy that has been put in place to preserve the credibility of the corporations and sports federations that sponsor the Olympic Games and other major international competitions. Sports officials around the world embrace WADA-style anti-doping education precisely because it is limited to managing the behaviors of their athletes in ways that serve the public image of high-performance sport and that exempt from scrutiny the power brokers who manage a global sports world that has long coexisted with systemic doping. In these circumstances, anti-doping education is sent out into the world on a wing and a prayer. As the steroid expert Charles Yesalis once said: “These drugs are far too seductive, and the rewards for using them are far too great for us to think that education will stop it.” vi
The sad fact is that the most effective anti-doping education occurs only after athletes have been caught doping. One of the most striking aspects of doping behavior is that few if any elite athletes have given up the doping habit voluntarily. Athletes do not wake up one morning and suddenly announce that, having consulted their consciences, they are going to stop doping. As the sports journalist Daniel Coyle has pointed out: ““Cycling history contains zero examples of high-level racers who, having tested positive for doping, offered an immediate and complete confession.” vii
To get a sense of what the ultimate form of anti-doping education might look like, there is the case of the Italian former doping cyclist Riccardo Riccò. In 2011 Riccò was told that he would be allowed to race again if he adhered to several conditions specified by the team owner Ivano Fanini. He would have to remove his two earrings, piercings, and the diamond embedded in his tooth, thereby creating a new personal image. He was required to break off relationships with his agent, trainer, and lawyer. He would have to tell the authorities everything he knew about doping. viii As the coach who expressed an interest in rebuilding his career put it, “I think it’s very important we help him make a full rehabilitation.” ix
- “Anti-doping training for Oceania sports,” The Fiji Times ONLINE (June 27, 2014). [https://www.fijitimes.com.fj/anti-doping-training-for-oceania-sports/]
- “Outreach Program on National Championship of Slovenian Dance Federation” (June 27, 2014). [http://www.sloado.si/en/news/n/otreach-program-on-national-championship-of-slovenian-dance-federation-109/]
- For a long and thoughtful critique of this practice, see Ask Vest Christiansen, “Bodily violation: Testing citizens training recreationally in gyms,” in Doping and Anti-Doping Policy in Sport, eds. Mike McNamee and Verner Møller (London and New York: Routledge, 2011): 126-141.
- “Drugbuster Pound says doping is so widespread that he no longer has faith in sport at the top,” Mail Online (August 3, 2013). [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-2384113/Dick-Pound-Doping-widespread-sport.html]
- “A hopeless battle worth fighting,” ESPM.com (November 20, 2012). [http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/8655313/wada-david-howman-discusses-state-doping-ped-policing-major-sports]
- Gregory Mott, “What About the Kids?” Washington Post (August 30, 2005).
- Daniel Coyle in Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs (New York: Bantam Books, 2012): 223.
- “Riccò may return to racing in June with Amore & Vita,” Cycling News (June 1, 2011). [http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/ricco-may-return-to-racing-in-june-with-amore-and-vita]
- “Sassi keen to work with Riccò,” Cycling News (September 28, 2010). [http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/sassi-keen-to-work-with-ricco]