BOA vs. WADA (both are right)

The British Olympic Association (BOA) is locked in a fight with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). I wanted to cover this story earlier in the week but there’s been too much other news to fit it in.

In case you’ve missed it, the BOA has a rule saying anyone banned for doping forfeits the right to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games. But WADA say the ban for a doping offence is two years and that the BOA, in adding an effective life ban, goes beyond this. Consequently WADA has declared Britain a “non-compliant nation”. An embarrassment given the country is set to host the Olympics in 2012.

The risk though is that in seeking to punish British dopers WADA and international efforts to tackle doping are underminded .

I’m sympathetic to the BOA’s idea, that the Olympics are some kind of higher contest, a more noble competition with higher standards about who is allowed to ride. One twitter correspondent put the case well on his blog.

But as another blogger Richard Moore writes the trouble here isn’t about noble ideas of keeping those with a record of doping away from the Games, instead WADA’s internationally agreed code is at stake:

The Code will only work if its signatories – who include governments, sports federations and anti-doping bodies, including UK Anti-Doping – adhere to it.

I tend to agree. If the host nation of the 2012 Olympics starts selecting which parts of WADA’s rules it likes and which bits it wants to drop, then what’s to stop, say, Russia in 2014 allowing banned athletes serving a ban to compete in the Soichi Winter Olympics? Or for another nation to declare some banned substances will be tolerated? Now this is unlikely if not impossible, especially since WADA can probably take the BOA to the ever-busy CAS and enforce the ruling.

I’m a big fan of WADA, if it didn’t exist we’d be calling for it. Sport is an international cross-border competition and unilateral rules from nation to nation have made tackling doping a mess so the creation of an international agency has been essential. Harmonised rules that work around the world are essential for tackling doping. Look at Operacion Puerto in Spain where more Italians than Spaniards have been busted. Or ask Jeannie Longo.

Earlier this year we had the organiser of the Italian national championships saying anyone convicted for doping could not ride. I agree with the sentiment but the trouble is that this turns the sport into a free for all. If one race says no because they don’t like some riders, what’s to stop another organiser saying they don’t want, say, any Belgians in the race? And to return to the Olympics and cycling, the BOA can have their ban but Alejandro Valverde and other convicted dopers will be there.

The only way to approach the subject of bans and anti-doping is through international agreement. But if the BOA want to ban those with doping offences, it needs to secure this via international agreement. The irony is that in standing firm on its moral high ground, the BOA’s stance against British dopers undermines WADA and hits the international effort to tackle doping.

Worst of all we now have a classic stand-off with both sides beginning a shouting match via the media instead of sitting down for dialogue and trying to resolve this. This is understandable for in some sense, both sides are right. For the sake of sport I hope both sides don’t get too carried away.

  • A more specific thought: what if the person who most wants the BOA ban overturned is not David Millar… but Mark Cavendish? The sprinter will need several riders working for him and if the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome bring horsepower over 250km, David Millar is another rider capable of towing Cavendish and the whole bunch. There are others like Alex Dowsett and Geraint Thomas but the first is unproven over long distances and the second is looking at the track events.

13 thoughts on “BOA vs. WADA (both are right)”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. The intentions of the BOA are noble, but undoubtedly against the WADA code. I’d understood the reason for it being against the code to be slightly different (though I may be wrong) – WADA says that you can only be punished once for any single doping offence but the BOA’s lifetime olympic ban effectively constitutes a double sanction.

    Anyway, whatever the technicalities of the reason, the BOA isn’t really helping the anti-doping cause however strongly held its views are. Having the same rules applied worldwide is an absolutely fundamental principle of any anti-doping scheme otherwise it’s completely pointless.

    It’s a shame WADA is being distracted from its main purpose in having to fight the national federations who are supposed to be helping it. It would really be better off spending its money on improving testing and procedures. If the Contador case has taught us anything it must surely be that there is a lot of room for improvement all round because the athletes, cycling and indeed WADA itself are losing credibility every time one of these cases gets dragged through the press without an outcome for months on end.

  2. I agree with the theory, but not the practice. Why is it problematic for one association to go beyond the shared rules and enforce higher standards on its own athletes? Garmin have applied stricter-than-WADA controls on its own riders for years yet this is not problematic?

    I can only see the problem as being one of strict regulation. If the BOA was to remove that rule but employ a ‘no dopers’ process for team selection without it being written down, would it still be wrong?

    As far as I am concerned WADA rules are the bare minimum for everyone to go by, and if others want to set a brighter example, why is it illegal to do so?

  3. I agree. But the Italian federation excuded ex dopers from national champioships and team and nobody prevented it. Honestly I prefer to see there young clean (-er…smarter?) riders instead of old (or dumb) dopers. But I see your point: national istances can’t change rules. WADA could and should.
    I also wrote something somewhere about Petacchi’s case on but can’t find it back…

  4. I believe the national federations should be able to SELECT athletes who best represent their country and ideals. Discrimination against those caught cheating in the past should be allowed. If you want to be eligible for selection to your national team, don’t CHEAT. Sadly, this will be an under-the-radar process due to the WADA rules. Who can prove rider X was not selected to the national team only because he/she’s a cheater? Most countries have a technical director who selects the team ala Paolo Bettini for the pro men’s cycling in Italy. What’s to stop Paolo from non-selecting ex-dopers, no matter what WADA might say?

  5. both are right? i don’t think so. the boa is led by this politician who knows all the tricks in the book and he’s in trouble right now over the money for the olympic games and making wada look soft on doping is the scapegoat he needs to deflect blame from his own mess.

  6. Have been a long term fan of the BOA bye law and remain one. 90%+ of the members of UK olympic teams in recent games are also in favour of it. The IOC athletes commission is in favour of such an idea/rule. I was a fan of the change in the IOC rules also.

    Also think the talk about BOA picking and choosing parts of the WADA code to implement and threats to the code itself are little more than hyperbole really. GB generally and the BOA in particular are code compliant (except in the BOA’s case for one little bye law)

    The bye law came into effect nearly 20 years ago – a decade before WADA even existed the rule was there. Before the Meritt CAS decision WADA had even assured the BOA the rule was OK, and the BOA was never deemed non compliant before the CAS decision.

    The BOA has more of a case it is a selection issue than the IOC as a whole ever did. It is slightly easier for one country’s OA to argue selection than a whole international organisation. The BOA also operates a review procedure and only applies its ban to deliberate conscious acts of doping. Merritt would probably have been allowed to represent GB despite the rule – as he successfully argued contamination for a sentence reduction, and this is known to be used by the BOA to allow athletes to be selected.
    But looking at the CAS decision it seems a rocky road ahead for the BOA. Even their chairman when giving “that” speech seems to accept it is a selection issue and a sanction.

    The WADA code says that
    “No additional provision may be added to a Signatory’s rules which changes the effect of the Articles enumerated …..” – a clause highlighted by CAS in the Merritt case.
    Arguably no additional provision has ever been added. The rule was there when the BOA signed up to WADA – unlike the IOC rule.

    In many other areas of law “grandfather rights” are accrued. Allowing for the longevity of the policy, and the nature and spirit of the the byelaw, it would be more preferable to grant them to the BOA in this singular respect than have the, frankly unedifying, prospect of a looming court case.

    Going forwards I wish every success to the IOC and others in getting the relevant parts of the WADA code changed one day.

  7. I think the BOA could more or less enforce their rule by shifting the emphasis – rather than take the position that certain athletes are not eligible for selection, they could open up selection but narrow down their funding/support for athletes. i.e if you’ve served a suspension, you don’t get funded to travel/participate at the Games.

    Athletes who’ve served suspensions would then be free to compete for their country, but not at their own expense. Perhaps the balance of payments between their testing/convinction and their future representation of their country would just about break even? Unless of course your name is Contador, Valverde, Chambers, etc, etc

  8. The purpose of bans of different lengths is to allow athletes to rehabilitate. What about the luge racer who had to serve a ban for rogaine? If an athlete has been busted more than once or for something egregious, then they get a long or life-time ban.

    I am not a Millar fan, but he has a) served his time, b) been articulate in the need to have strict doping rules and c) performed in a manner that should get him at least considered for selection by the BOA. He shouldn’t be dismissed arbitrarily.

  9. Why did WADA decide to declare the BOA non compliant? Frankly, it makes WADA look soft on drugs, and it looks stupid for pursuing the association that takes the issue more seriously than any other.

    It is ridiculous to argue there must be only one (low) standard applied everywhere. Why? You are unconvincing when you claim this would set a precedent that would allow others to deviate from the rules in the other direction.

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