Event Testing

The drive for athletic success and the science of performance-enhancing substances are, by definition, parallel pursuits. The experimentations conducted with homemade potions and elixirs consumed by athletes in the nineteenth century have given way to high technology supplements, with sport-specific physical and psychological objectives. The use of performance enhancers has fueled an ongoing, decades-old debate as to the ethics of such practices, contrasted by often powerful commercial and nationalistic forces that are prepared to reward athletic achievement over moral rectitude.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs is now a very widely practiced aspect of sport, which has fueled a broad-based, scientifically rigorous and more publicly accepted approach to athletic event testing. The use of anabolic steroids by Russian and Eastern Bloc weightlifters and power sport athletes in the 1950s was not capable of ready scientific detection. The testing for illegal performance-enhancing substances is now a foundation to every international, national, and collegiate competition in every major sporting discipline in the world. The theory behind rigorous drug testing and the practical results of such programs remains an imperfect fit.

Of historical interest is the fact that the Olympic Games conducted gender verification testing commencing at the 1928 Olympics, when female athletes first rose to prominence, through the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. This testing was aimed at detecting men who might be inclined to pose as female athletes, with the verification conducted first by a direct gynecological examination and, after 1968, by laboratory analysis of vaginal samples.

Event testing is the term applied to any type of testing for prohibited drugs or other performance-enhancing substances used by athletes in the course of or immediately upon the conclusion of a particular competition. Such testing, also referred to as in-com-petition testing, applies to both individual sports as well as team events. Event testing is contrasted with out of competition testing, which is a process whereby a supervising agency conducts random testing of athletes, without notice to the athlete that the test is pending.

Event testing may be directed towards the detection of a broad range of substances that are ingested by some athletes to enhance performance generally, or to supplement a particular aspect of their personal training, health, or fitness. As competition dates are well known to athletes or their support personnel many weeks or months in advance, it is equally understood that a drug test will likely be conducted at that event. Athletes with such knowledge and desire may then tailor their use of an otherwise illegal substance so as to not have traces of the material in their blood or urine on the day of the competition. For this reason, if properly organized, a random out of competition test is likely to be a greater deterrent to illegal substance use by athletes than one carried out in event.

The advancement of international event testing, including the development of testing regulations and the ultimate supervision of procedures, rests with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA was constituted in the mid-1990s as a result of the impetus of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make international athletics drug free. WADA has exerted a demonstrable impact upon the world of elite sport competition. Every national Olympic Committee is a signatory to WADA. WADA was created as the ultimate coordinating and supervising body in the international war against "doping," the term used to broadly describe the introduction of any performance-enhancing substance in to the body. Virtually every international sports governing body, including IOC, soccer's Feédeération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), basketball's Feédeération Internationale de Basketball Association (FIBA), the Cycling Union International, are signatories to the WADA Anti-Doping Code, which empowers each organization to employ WADA drug-testing procedures in their competitions. WADA also coordinates extensive scientific testing regarding both substances as well as detection methods through its own laboratories as well as partnerships throughout the world.

Individual nations have created their own anti-doping agencies to work with the individual governing bodies of the various sports in their countries; these anti-doping bodies have also adopted the WADA Anti-Doping Code in the administration of their own competitions. By adopting a WADA-styled process regarding both event testing as well as out of competition testing, the governing body in question establishes an element of due diligence concerning athlete supervision, as well as a heightened credibility for the results achieved. Athletes who have a history of negative tests for illegal substances are perceived as ethical.

The general rules with regard to the conduct of a WADA model event test in individual sports include a number of sequential steps, beginning with the published definitions of banned substances. WADA publishes a comprehensive list of every substance to be banned from international competition on January 1 of each calendar year. This list is definitive. Individual sports organizations, both national and international, may also publish their own rules regarding prohibited substances.

With the ground rules established as to what substances are prohibited, the doping tests are conducted in accordance with a similarly published protocol. The entire doping test process is supervised by a designated official, often referred to as the doping control officer. Events are predetermined as to how many athletes will be tested at the conclusion of the competition. A typical selection will require the top three finishers, plus two or three other athletes at random.

An athlete who is the subject of a doping test is escorted to the doping control area, where the procedures are explained to the athlete. The athlete is permitted only such fluids as will not affect the tests, such as decaffeinated drinks. The athlete then provides a sample (typically a urine sample), in circumstances where it is impossible to switch a concealed urine sample or otherwise modify the sample.

The athlete and the doping control officials then mutually ensure that the sample is sealed after being divided into an A sample and a B sample. The sample is then stored in a manner sufficient to ensure its preservation, and transported to an accredited facility. To be accredited, the facility, usually a laboratory, must itself comply with the WADA-published procedures concerning substance testing.

The athlete is not identified on any sample submitted, except by a code or number, which is known only to doping control officials.

The accredited testing facility is required to test the A sample first. In the event of a positive test, the designated officials are notified. The officials will then notify the athlete as well as the supervising or governing body. The B sample is then tested as a confirmation of the A sample test. When the B sample test does not confirm the positive A sample, the test is deemed to be a negative test; the benefit of the doubt in the testing process is designed to favor the athlete.

It is to be noted that both in the WADA Anti-Doping Code, as well as in similar provisions created by national governing sports bodies, the possession of a prohibited substance, the refusal to comply with a legal event-testing request, as well as an attempt to use such a substance, attract anti-doping sanctions.

The focus of the testing carried out in a particular event will necessarily be reflected in the nature of likely performance enhancements believed prevalent in a particular sports discipline. The three broadest categories for testing are for muscle-building steroids, stimulants of a wide variety, and blood doping through the use of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). On an international basis, the three most tested groups of athletes, reflecting the popularity of these sports worldwide, are soccer players, track and field athletes, and cyclists.

In team sports, the dynamics of event testing are different. Many amateur sports have out of competition testing procedures, for which compliance is essential to the receipt of athlete sponsorship and funding from state or government agencies. The event testing in sports such as soccer is based upon a random draw of two or more players, who are notified immediately upon the conclusion of the match in question. Players who were disqualified or who were injured during the course of the game will typically be excluded from the testing draw.

In professional sports, event testing is not as common and it is the product of a number of complicated factors. The evolution of anti-doping testing procedures in any form has been a much slower creation. The perceived lagging of professional sports to embrace a fully operational drug testing regime is ironic, given that the incentive to use performance-enhancing drugs, in the securing of a place as a professional athlete as well as to maintain elite athletic status and the possibilities of great financial rewards, is far greater in professional sports than in any other discipline.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the most powerful soccer body in the world next to FIFA, endorsed the WADA Anti-Doping Code in 2004. Prominent professional leagues such as the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL), all based in North America, have each been engaged in protracted disputes with their respective players associations over a comprehensive drug testing policy that would encompass events. Each league employs a variant of out of competition testing that is as directed to negative publicity-generating recreational drugs, such as cocaine, as it may be said to target performance-enhancing products.

SEE ALSO Anabolic steroids; Blood doping; Out-of-competition testing; Stimulants; World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).