Out-of-Competition Testing

Out-of-competition testing is the second of the two major components in the conduct of comprehensive testing of athletes for the presence of performance-enhancing substances. This type of testing is generally known as doping tests. Irrespective of the particular national or international sport federation that might be responsible for the athlete in question, in-competition testing is conducted on an athlete selected for a specific competition, such as an Olympic event or at a World Cup match. Out-of-competition testing is any such testing of an athlete not in competition, or in any way associated with the athlete's immediate participation in an event or match.

Since the advent of in-competition scientific testing for performance-enhancing substances, particularly processes aimed at the detection of anabolic steroids, stimulants, and blood doping hormones such as erythropoietin (EPO), uncertainty had existed as to the effectiveness of a testing process where the fact of an upcoming test was known to all participants. Many performance-enhancing substances could be consumed by an athlete until a date in advance of competition; the athlete would then suspend the taking of the product to permit the testing to take place, and resume consumption after the test. Alternatively, the presence of such substances might be chemically masked, or the processing of the illegal substance assisted with the consumption of other pharmaceutical products such as diuretics. The challenge for sports organizations was to develop a comprehensive model to permit the investigation of illegal substance use throughout the entire year.

This challenge was long in being remedied, as the difficulties faced by sport organizers to detect anabolic steroids best illustrates. Steroids were first used in a systematic fashion by Eastern Bloc weightlifters, wrestlers, and other strength-event athletes in the 1950s. American competitors, having observed the success of their Eastern rivals, began to employ steroids in their own training. The sports science community was well aware of the performance-enhancing power of anabolic steroids, but there existed no reliable and efficient method of physical testing for these substances.

Anabolic steroids were first declared to be illegal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Testing methods were crude and uncertain by modern standards. When science began to develop certain tests that identified steroid metabolites, the substances produced by the body as a byproduct or breakdown of steroids within the body, testing at the Olympic level began to take on a meaning and an immediacy that it previously lacked.

A serious of high-profile positive doping tests, including that of sprinter Ben Johnson at the 1988 Summer Olympics, which resulted in the disqualification of his world record race in the 100 m, created a sense of urgency in the international athletics community regarding performance-enhancing substances of all kinds. It was in this culture that various international sports groups took affirmative steps to counter doping. The rise to prominence of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the late 1990s was a significant stimulus to the development of established and transparent out-of-competition testing practices. With the acceptance by the IOC and its member countries of the WADA Anti-Doping Code, the sports bodies that were aligned primarily to the Olympic movement or the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), moved their constituent national memberships to adopt the same out-of-competition procedures provided by the WADA Code.

At a national level, amateur athletes who receive government funding must comply with their home federation rules regarding out-of-competition testing.

With the sophistication of doping science keeping apace with the ability of sports federations to access scientific developments in test procedures, the random out-of-competition test is a powerful weapon.

The broader world of international sport now has three different types of comprehensive doping testing being utilized: the WADA regulated model, the testing conducted in professional sports leagues where the testing procedures are negotiated between the league and the players association through a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and athletes participating in sports where the testing is conducted on an ad hoc basis.

The procedures created by WADA regarding both in-competition and out-of-competition testing were intended to be comprehensive in their scope. The signatories to the WADA Anti-Doping Code include the national Olympic committees of virtually every nation, major world sports bodies such as the IAAF, FIFA, FIBA, as well as the national anti-doping agencies in each country; the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport, UK Sport (Great Britain), the Australia Sports Drug Agency, and the Anti-Doping Commission of India are examples. By adopting the WADA Code, each sports body agrees to conduct all doping tests in accordance with its procedures. WADA does not determine which athletes should be subjected to out-of-competition testing, as this is a matter for the national and sports bodies on an individual basis; WADA provides the procedure to be followed where such tests are administered.

As a general rule, sports agencies will make known whether an athlete will at any time be subject to an out-of-competition test. In addition to compliance with rules with respect to ongoing financial aid, testing creates a track record of its own—when an athlete is subsequently tested at competition in circumstances that may raise issues as to the quality of the test procedures, series of "clean" tests may establish a measure of credibility to a protest to the result. Further, the administering association, through transparent out-of-competition testing of its members, establishes its own credibility.

Out-of-competition doping testing under the WADA Code may take one of two forms: a random test, or a test conducted on a predetermined date, known as an advance notice test. Random testing is organized on the basis that the athlete provides sufficient data that he or she might be reached at any time. Most organizations will permit one unexplained failure to contact the athlete; it is common for a second such problem to initiate a process where the athlete may be deemed to have failed the test unless he or she exhibits complete cooperation to the testing authority.

When the athlete has no advance notice of the test, he or she will be chaperoned continuously from the moment of contact from the testing officials until the sample is provided. The test is usually a urine sample, as this is the easiest and least intrusive means of obtaining bodily fluids for testing. WADA has detailed protocols about the manner in which the sample is physically placed into a test container, the sealing of the container, and its secure transport to an accredited test facility. The test must usually provide for a designated A and B sample, with the B acting as the basis for a second test if the A sample tests positive. The athlete is deemed to have tested positive when both the A and the B samples generate that result.

The prescribed standards for what actually constitutes a positive sample are published by WADA on an annual basis. With many prohibited substances, there are permitted levels to be present in the body; the test is aimed at detection of illegal levels of the substance. An example is the anabolic steroid nandrolone; it is a prohibited substance, but as nandrolone naturally occurs in the human body in minute quantities, a positive test for the steroid is not the discovery of the presence of nandrolone in the subject urine sample; a positive test results when the nandrolone metabolite is present in amounts exceeding the prescribed level of 2 mg per liter in urine.

When the athlete is subject to advance notice of a test, he or she will be directed to attend a designated Doping Control Station at a fixed time and date. As with the athlete who cannot be located for the purposes of a random test, the failure of an athlete to attend an advance notice test may trigger consequences that include the test being deemed to have a positive result. In such circumstances where the test is conducted under the auspices of the WADA Code, the athlete will be suspended for a period of time from competition; in most national governing bodies, a deemed failure of a doping test will generate a two-year suspension. Repeat offenders will often face a lifetime ban from the sport.

Although uneven in its application in some sports, the high-profile efforts of first the International Olympic Committee, and later WADA, to create a worldwide anti-doping protocol produced an undoubted domino effect. An example is large amateur sport organizations such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that have drug testing regimes both in-competition and out-of-competition that mirror the WADA approach.

Professional sports organizations across the world were much slower to adopt comprehensive anti-doping procedures than were the Olympic movement and international multi-sport associations such as the IAAF. The interest of professional sports, the generation of profits for the ownership of teams, and the desire of players to achieve often exceedingly lucrative professional status, took a clear precedence over concerns regarding fair play or the significant health concerns surrounding performance-enhancing substances.

The Tour de France, the world's foremost cycling road race, is sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (ICU). In the period prior to 2004, the ICU conducted its own anti-doping tests for the Tour; the Tour had a history of athletes who used various stimulants. In 2004, the ICU became a signatory to the WADA Code, making the Tour a professional event that has bound itself to the same standards as the international athletic community. Professional soccer leagues that are sanctioned by FIFA, whose leagues include the high-profile English Premiership, the Serie A of Italy, and the German Bundeslega, another party to the WADA Code, are also subject to the same rules with respect to out-of-competition testing.

North American professional leagues have long been resistant to a WADA-styled out-of-competition testing protocol. In the case of professional American football, ice hockey, and baseball, each sport and its players association have negotiated a CBA governing all aspects of their relationship, including drug testing. As a general rule, each CBA provides that there will be out-of-competition and in-season testing at designated periods.

The penalties imposed for illegal substance use in North American professional sport are typically more lenient than those imposed in WADA-style testing. A first offense for the use of a banned substance in American football is a four-game suspension; a similar violation of the Major League Baseball policy is a 10-day suspension. The professional leagues have a seemingly far greater laissez faire attitude to this issue. The ice hockey public has never expressed significant concern over the widespread practice among NHL players in the pre-game consumption of decongestants that contain ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine, prohibited stimulants under the WADA Code. Steroid use among baseball sluggers became well known in the late 1990s, but it was a revelation that did little to affect the overall popularity of the sport.

SEE ALSO Doping tests; EPO; Prohibited substances (competition bans); U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA); World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).