Lance Armstrong’s disgrace sits among the leading and unprecedented doping scandals in US sports history. Such doping may have gone unnoticed by many in years past, but we are now witnessing the evolution of an international commitment to fair play and ethical values in elite sports.
Established in 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is an international, independent entity composed and funded equally by the sports movement and world governments. Devoted to scientific research, education and development of anti-doping capacities, the agency also monitors the World Anti-Doping Code, a comprehensive set of international standards.
As WADA was forming, so did the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The USADA led investigations into steroid use in major-league baseball and is leading the inquiry into Lance Armstrong and USA Cycling. Now while the US judicial system works to expose potential criminal acts associated with cycling, the USADA pursues code violations, even as threats of civil suits against athletes lurk in the background and, no doubt, lawyers on both sides contest potential sanctions.
The World Anti-Doping Code makes it clear that a positive urine or blood test is not essential for an anti-doping violation. Such violations as trafficking, distributing or inciting others to use prohibited substances carry the same weight as positive tests. Whatever the case, it is imperative that athletes receive due process. Careful study of the World Anti-Doping Code will give pause to those who are outraged over allegations of the lack of due process.
Beyond the complexities of banned substances, drug testing and prosecutions, the real story is about the messages that this scandal sends to young people who seek nothing more than fair and ethical competition. Most of the national dialogue has centered on violations of law and the rules of sport, but performance-enhancing drug abuse is not limited to elite athletes. With surveys revealing that more than 2.5 percent of eighth graders have used anabolic steroids, it should compel us as a nation to move the issue from the sports pages to the front pages.
When Ben Johnson disgraced his country in 1988 by cheating with steroids, Canada established its Dubin Commission to address the scandal. Recent events underscore that during this America’s moment of national introspection, we too can right our ship in the name of drug-free sport.
Dr. Wadler works on WADA’s Prohibited List and Methods Committee and was a member of its Health, Medicine, and Research Committee. Chairman emeritus of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, Dr. Wadler has also served as medical advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as a trustee of the American College of Sports Medicine and the Women’s Sports Foundation.