I have just completed my online anti-doping advisor course with UK Anti-doping to give me a bit of an understanding about doping in sport and my responsibilities as an ‘athlete support provider’ or sport psychologist with regards to doping in sport. This blog is going to hopefully help to open the eyes of athletes, coaches, and support staff to doping in sport and give some practical tips on how to avoid this often career ending mistake.
In 2009 UK Anti-doping was created following a recommendation from UK sport to government that an independent organisation be created to lead the fight against doping in sport in the lead up to London 2012. UKAD took over the responsibilities for testing and education from the ‘Drug Free Sport’ at UK sport and is now responsible for the implementation and management of the UK’s anti-doping policy. International however the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has overall direction on doping in sport and created a code for anti-doping worldwide. The code includes a significant number of rules and restrictions about the use of drugs and supplements in sport. WADA develop 5 international standards, these are stated below:
The 5 international standards:
1. International standards for testing and investigations
2. The list of prohibited substances and methods
3. International standard for therapeutic use exemptions
4. International standard for laboratories
5. International standards for the protection of privacy and personal information
Basically these are the criteria that every country must use to ensure that all athletes are treated in the same way. It is UKAD’s responsibility however develop the anti-doping rules to align with the 2015 code. 10 rule violations which dictate how athletes should conduct themselves with regards to drugs in sport were developed, these violations are:
1. Presence of a banned substance in a blood or urine sample
2. Use of a banned substance or method
3. Refusal to give a sample of blood or urine
4. Failure to meet whereabouts requirements of national governing bodies
5. Tampering with any part of the testing procedure
6. Possession of a banned substance or equipment
7. Trafficking of a banned substance
8. Administration of a banned substance, aiding, abetting or covering and Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRV)
9. Complicity –helping someone to commit and ADRV or avoid detection
10. Prohibited association – athletes associating with an ASP who are currently servicing a ban or have been found guilty of a criminal or disciplinary offence equivalent to an ADRV.
The rules must be adhered to at all times by athletes, coaches, support staff and parents within sport. The sanction in place for any one of these offences has been revised in 2015 as well. A first offence can incur a ban of up to four years for any party involved. However if the misdemeanour is accidental and can be proven then a ban may be reduced to two years. Just like in a match or race if an athlete breaks the rules then they are the ones that a penalised, even if they are coerced by another party. If you put it in your body, you are responsible for the consequences. Interestingly 6 of these 10 violations apply to support stuff including psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionists and any other support staff members. These are:
1. Tampering with any part of the testing procedure
2. Possession of a banned substance or equipment
3. Trafficking of a banned substance
4. Administration of banned substance, aiding, abetting or covering up an ADRV
5. Complicity – helping someone commit an ADRV or avoid detection
6. Prohibited Association – athletes associating with ASP who are currently serving a ban or have been found guilty of a criminal or disciplinary offence equivalent to an ADRV.
As a support staff member if you break any of these rules you can be banned for up to 4 years and any athlete that then works with you can also risk a ban for up to 4 years.
So how can we help you keep clean and on the right side of the rules?
Being clean means that you are competing without the use of banned substances whether it is intentional or unintentional, there are usually some basic steps that can be taken in order to ensure that you are competing clean. Firstly there is a list out there can help you understand what drugs are banned and what are legal, however this list reads like an Egyptian hieroglyph to the uninformed and is utterly confusing to anyone outside of the medical profession. So lets make it simple. There is a database where you can search the drugs you are taking and check that they are not on the banned list. The website is called Global DRO and can be found by click here. It’s pretty simple to use all you have to do is type in the brand name or active ingredient and hit search, the results then give you information about the drug and its status in the code. It is important to note however that you can only search medications from the UK, US, Canada and Japan and no guarantees can be made especially if you brought the medication online and it is counterfeit. Also I you cannot search for supplements on this website. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! I hear you shout. I need a banned medication from the doctor for my health. Interestingly WADA thought about that when writing these rules and if you truly need a medication that is on the banned list then you can apply either to your NGB or to UKAD to get an exemption, these are called TUE’s (therapeutic use exemption) and can be applied for by the athlete. You just need to look at the TEU part of the UKAD website which again can be found by clicking here. It might however be worth asking your doctor first if there is anything else you can take before being prescribed a banned drug. UKAD give us an SOP when being prescribed medication or buying something from the pharmacist. This can be remembered as TELL, CHECK, ASK.
TELL – everyone (doctors and pharmacists) that you are an athlete and have to abide by the anti-doping rules
CHECK- all medication on Global DRO, and record your checks
ASK – for help, advice, a second opinion if you are unsure of anything.
I mentioned earlier that supplements can’t be checked on the Global DRO website. So again some bright spark came up with a solution to this problem but first we need to understand why athletes take supplements and the potential benefits. Elite athletes may require addition nutrients because of the demands of their sport; however it is probably best if you check with a doctor or nutritionist for advice. Supplements are there to ‘supplement’ nutrition gained through eating and for most young or talented athletes a good balanced healthy diet should be enough. It is essential that as an athlete or coach you assess the risk before taking a supplement as we cannot always guarantee the contents of a given supplement. Informed sport is a risk minimisation scheme that helps athletes with the choices they make; their website can be found here. These guys test the quality of nutritional supplements and give advice on what supplements might be useful and are not on the banned list. One nifty thing they do is test batches of supplements to make sure that nothing on the banned list is in them. So if you buy a supplement from that batch number you know there is a minimal risk that there will be a prohibited substance in it. Useful eh!
One final thing! Recreational drugs. Cannabis and Cocaine are both on the prohibited list. If you are found with either of these drugs in your system you will get an instant ban of up to 2 years from your sport. They are also harmful to health, probably just best to avoid them.
I still hear you all shouting at me. I can hear the question now… ‘I won’t get tested I’m not an international athlete’. This was the first thing I was told when I told my football coach dad about all this information. If you compete in any NGB sanctioned event there is a possibility that you can be tested, these can include the Sainsbury’s School Games, regional competitions, national competition, Youth Sport Games, Youth Olympic Games, international qualifies, international games etc. So yes there is a chance if you are competing regularly the chances are you will come across a drug tester at some point.
Hopefully this has given a small insight into Anti-doping, drug testing and drug violations in the UK and will give you a little idea about how you can stay clean when competing in sport. After all we all want to know that we are competing against someone fairly, who hasn’t taken drugs, especially if we have been tirelessly training hard, whilst staying 100% me.
If you have any more questions about saying 100% clean, drugs in sport, psychology or performance enhancement please feel free to get in touch.