PETER BOL’S YEAR from hell continued last night as he finished fifth in his heat at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Bol ran a time of 1.46.75 seconds, nearly three seconds outside his PB of 1.44.00 set in Paris last year, but given the drama and turmoil he’s been subjected to over the last 12 months, his performance was hardly surprising.
In January, Bol was provisionally banned, and named, by Athletics Australia after it was found he had produced a positive doping test for synthetic EPO. This was later contradicted by a second test of his sample, leading to his ban being lifted. A further review of his urine samples then found the first positive results for EPO should not have been called positive, prompting a review by WADA, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Bol was officially exonerated earlier this month after Sport Integrity Australia declared it would not progress with an anti-doping rule violation and closed its investigation.
Bol’s preparation for this meet was severely hampered. The 29-year-old, who didn’t speak to the media last night and didn’t attend the Australian team camp in Montpellier prior to the championships, is clearly still fuming. He has a right to be.
Just an hour before Bol’s heat, Athletes Integrity Unit (AIU) chairman David Howman and chief executive Brett Clothier held a press conference where they described the Bol case as a disaster for doping authorities. They said they were eagerly awaiting the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s review of what went wrong.
“The worst thing that could happen is what happened in that [Bol] case,” said Howman, who was previously head of WADA. “What we must do is to ensure that the process can be reviewed and re-conducted in a way that doesn’t end up in such a disaster. It’s not fair on the athlete.”
Howman also raised concerns about the anti-doping policies of other major sports such as football, rugby and golf. “Not many of the big sports have a robust anti-doping program,” Howman said. “Many people in team sports will go through their careers without being tested once.”
Howman was especially critical of football’s approach. “There’s FIFA and the rest of the world,” he said. “FIFA run a program where they tick the boxes in terms of their in‑competition testing. It’s the out of competition they find difficult.” He urged more sports to copy the AIU’s approach to catching cheats. “All we can do is sit around the table and encourage them to do the things we do.”
There is a bit to unpack here but given the misery Bol has been subjected to over the last year by athletics’ stringent doping protocols, it does seem unfair that athletes in team sports might be losing comparatively less sleep at night worrying about over-zealous doping authorities.
It’s easy to argue that team sports, which rely less on sheer athletic output and more on skill and endurance, are not the doping battleground that athletics is. But this overlooks the role performance enhancing drugs can play in reducing recovery timeframes, in injury prevention, and even in extending career longevity. It’s an open question as to whether the increasing ages and extended primes of athletes in team sports, and even individual sports such as tennis, can be solely attributed to advancements in sports science, the increased use of supplements, hyperbaric chambers, ice baths and the like. Maybe they can.
As it is, testing in athletics is set to become even more rigorous. The athlete biological passport (ABP) was introduced in 2009 and has been effective in detecting the use of drugs such as EPO, used primarily in distance running and cycling, but less so with steroids used in sprinting and throwing events. Clothier said the introduction of a “blood steroid passport” at these current championships—which collects information on markers of steroid doping using blood rather than urine—would be “a very effective tool” in the battle to clamp down on doping ahead of Paris 2024.
You have to hope that as well as catching more drug cheats, the upgraded testing regime also sees less false positives of the kind that impacted Bol these last 12 months.
What is FIFA’s policy on performance enhancing drugs?
According to FIFA’s website, it sets its anti-doping rules in line with the WADA Code. Ahead of last year’s QATAR World Cup, 2,846 tests were conducted overall and every player in the squads of the eight quarter-finalists was tested an average four-and-a-half times ahead of the tournament.
In a press release to announce its new doping policy ahead of the tournament, the organisation listed players who’d failed drug tests. What’s notable about the list is the prevalence of African and Central American players, as well as the lack of big-name stars. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether this constitutes the ‘box-ticking’ Howman was referring to. Whether FIFA has any interest in catching big names is open to conjecture.
At a league level, The Mail on Sunday conducted an investigation earlier this year that concluded that under the Premier League’s anti-doping program, run by the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD), “footballers are almost never tested for the banned performance-enhancing drug testosterone… And top-flight stars can expect to be subject to even the most basic drug test as infrequently as once per season”. The paper revealed that UKAD collected an average of 2.5 doping samples from each Premier League footballer during the four seasons between 2017-18 and 2020-21, finding “some players could have had perhaps a single appointment with testers each season, if any.”
What is the AFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs?
The AFL is a signatory to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and WADA, with its policy on PEDs based upon those organisations’ protocols, under which players can be randomly drug tested for prohibited substances 365 days a year. After the Essendon peptides scandal in 2012, the AFL beefed up its anti-doping code to include all manner of exotic supplements that could be performance enhancing.
As it currently stands, though, most of the focus in AFL these days is on the use of illicit drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine rather than steroids, testosterone or EPO. Cocaine is regarded as performance-enhancing on game day and in 2019 Gold Coast Suns player Brayden Crossley tested positive for cocaine in a game-day test. Crossley was delisted by the Suns in 2020 despite having his ban quashed by ASADA.
In 2015, meanwhile, Collingwood pair Josh Thomas and Lachie Keeffe accepted two-year drug bans for taking the banned substance clenbuterol, regarded as a performance-enhancing drug both in and out of season. The pair argued that the drug they took was cocaine laced with the banned substance. Both players were delisted and fined $50,000 by the club, as stipulated under AFL and ASADA guidelines.
What is the NRL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs?
Under the NRL’s Anti-Doping Policy, any registered player can be tested at any time. Players are selected on a random or targeted basis both In-Competition (Match-Days) and Out-of-Competition.
But NRL players cannot be tested for drugs in the off-season, or on their days off, which means players can go months without fear of being tested. Once again, the focus is more on illicit drugs rather than PEDs.
The NRL has previously flagged a desire to test players during off-season holidays—set at nine weeks for the most experienced players. Under the current terms, players can only be tested when they’re in a club environment, either at training or in the pre-season, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.