The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was founded in 1999 as a result of what had been a growing international effort to counter the effects of performance-enhancing substances in sport. Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, WADA is the supreme international authority with respect to both doping test procedures and the determination of what substances will be the subject of athletic sanction when detected.
The stated mission of WADA is the international monitoring, promotion, and coordination of the international fight against doping in sport in all of its forms.
The use of various substances by athletes to improve performance is likely as old as competitive sport itself. Competition has often spurred athletes to seek any edge—however slight, and at their own physical risk—that might separate them from their rivals. In 1928, the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) banned the use of doping, which in that era was primarily the use of stimulants such as amphetamines and strychnine (also a well-known poison).
The history of formal doping tests can be traced to the late 1960s, when the properties of certain substances, particularly anabolic steroids and stimulants, began to raise concerns among athletic governing bodies that a level competitive field be preserved. In 1968, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally banned a wide range of performance-enhancing substances from Olympic competition and established formal doping tests. In 1976 the IOC was able to formally ban anabolic steroids as a test had been developed to detect the presence of these compounds in the body.
As the IOC did not possess the comprehensive or foolproof detection technologies necessary to rigorously enforce the doping rules, both the Olympic movement and international sport generally remained the subject of significant public concern regarding drug use in sport in the following 20 years. Doping became a more serious problem, with the rise of professionalism in many previously amateur disciplines, such as track and field. The testing procedures employed by the IOC became more accurate and more reliable, as was evidenced by the disqualification of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in the 1988 Summer Olympics for a positive anabolic steroid test, after he won the 100-m sprint final. However, the competitions held in a number of international sports, most notoriously cycling, appeared to be significantly affected by doping practices. A police seizure of various doping products during the 1998 Tour de France gave further publicity to the use of both stimulants and the then-recently synthesized
In 1999 worldwide public concerns regarding doping culminated in the creation of WADA, established with the full support of both the IOC and numerous national governmental and sport-governing bodies. Through the regulatory instrument known as the WADA Anti-Doping Code, a worldwide sport consensus was forged in the years following the founding of WADA. International sports federations, national sport-governing bodies, national Olympic committees, and independent sports leagues that agreed to be bound by the terms of the WADA Code became correspondingly obligated to enforce all of the WADA rules concerning the administration of doping tests (both in-competition and out-of-competition), to abide by the enforcement of the WADA Prohibited List (the annual publication of all illegal performance-enhancing substances), and to participate in comprehensive doping education strategies.
The influence of WADA and the efforts of its constituency to create a drug-free sport have resulted in an international sport climate where the failure of a sport to properly administer transparent anti-doping practices will ensure that the sport will not be included in the Olympic Games. In 2006, baseball was removed from the roster of sports to be contested at the 2012 Summer Games by the IOC. The International Baseball Federation (IBF) was vigorous in both its objections to the removal of its sport from the Summer Games, as well as advancing its claim for reinstatement in advance of the 2016 Olympics, and beyond. WADA investigated the dope-testing practices of the IBF, particularly as they applied to Major League Baseball (MLB), whose professional players would be eligible for participation in an Olympics; MLB is not a signatory to the WADA Code. WADA determined that unless the IBF demonstrated compliance with WADA practices, WADA would declare the sport noncompliant, an act that would all but eliminate baseball from any Olympic reinstatement.
Over 200 countries, through their national sports-governing bodies, are signatories to the WADA Code. In addition, most of those countries have created a national anti-doping agency as the instrument to further the work by WADA on their national level; the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is an example. The chief work conducted by the national agencies is the coordination of national doping testing among all of the national sports federations in a particular country. In virtually all sporting nations, both the ability to participate in international competition as well as the receipt of government or private sponsor funding will be dependent on the athletes' compliance with all doping testing as mandated by the national anti-doping agency, consistent with overall WADA direction.
The most visible aspect of WADA is the combined effect of the annual Prohibited List and the resultant competition bans that are imposed when a positive doping test is registered. The Prohibited List is updated by WADA on an annual basis to reflect any scientific developments with respect to newly discovered substances that are deemed to represent drug cheating. The emergence of nandrolone in 2003, the so-called designer anabolic steroid, is an example of a discovery that resulted in its inclusion on the List. WADA, through various accredited laboratories, actively researches what it anticipates as the next cutting edge in the battle against doping. An effective system to determine whether an athlete has participated in gene doping, the modification of the athlete's genetic structure to develop better muscle structure, is an example. Another recent area of WADA-authorized research has assisted in the creation of a marker to be used in urine tests to prevent the switching of urine samples for the purpose of deceiving a test administrator.
The sanctions imposed by WADA are generally significant: a two-year ban from all competition for a first offense positive doping test is common. In many cases, the athlete advances a defense that centers on either his or her personal ignorance of the substance (often as a component in a dietary supplement), or that he or she was advised by a coach or trainer that the substance was legal for use. The general position of WADA is one of strict liability, an application of the legal proposition that the responsibility rests with the atheletes to ensure they know at all times that anything they ingest into their bodies is both safe and legal for use.