POSTED: September 26th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: The campaign against drug-taking heats up

The new WADA code changes the game in sports when it goes into effect January 1st 2015 / Bigstock
The new WADA code changes the game in sports when it goes into effect January 1st 2015 / Bigstock

Michael Buckner is at the forefront of the new trend in sports law / Buckner Law
Michael Buckner is at the forefront of the new trend in sports law / Buckner Law

JOHN GOODBODY / Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The fight against doping in sport is on the cusp of a fresh challenge. The new code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) takes effect on January 1, 2015 and all the international federations, national Olympic committees and anti-doping agencies have just three months to show how they are going to tackle the requirements of investigating malpractice by drugs cheats.

This need for intelligence gathering is perhaps the most significant advance in the Code since it was first drawn up in Copenhagen in 2003. As the highly-publicised cases of such well-known international competitors as Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong have shown, even repeated and regular testing by itself does not always discover, who has been taking performance-enhancing substances.

The problem is that many of these organisations do not have the manpower or expertise to initiate these investigations into gaining evidence for  what is known as ‘non-analytical positives’, although from 2015 they will be obliged to do so. Buckner, a globally-focussed sports law firm based in Florida, has launched an investigative service to answer these needs. As Michael Buckner, an attorney and the firm’s managing shareholder, says: ”The majority of these bodies do not have a plan to carry it out and this is going to be a hugely expanding area for them.”

He foresees that with many of the international federations based in Europe, it will be there as well as in the United States that the initial impact will be felt. As he points out some anti-doping agencies already have their own investigatory units, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia but the vast majority do not.

He accepted that in some cases it has been the media, who have succeeded in uncovering malpractice by individuals or teams. For instance, David Walsh, my colleague on The Sunday Times in London, has received fully justifiable plaudits for his outstanding work on the case of Lance Armstrong. However as Buckner says:”It should not be the media’s job to do intelligence gathering. In Armstrong’s case, the flag should have been raised before he had even had his first Tour de France victory,”(In 1999, when Walsh first queried the credibility of Armstrong’s performances.)

”His dramatic improvement over one year should have alerted people to say ‘let us look into this a bit further.’” It took until January 2013, following the investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, before the American cyclist finally was forced to admit that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Buckner adds: ”Intelligence gathering in future will take many forms, such as tracking athletes’ performances, electronic monitoring, talking to experts as well as former competitors in the sport, who will be able to say ’This is what we are hearing.’

Buckner already has a team of 13 people to help tackle what could well be an immense task, with him anticipating an expansion in personnel depending on the demand. They include: a retired FBI Special Agent, who has “significant experience operating international drug-trafficking investigations”; a former sports regulatory investigator; and a former licensed private investigator, with experience investigating alleged violations of rules prohibiting performance-enhancing drugs; as well as licensed attorneys and consultants.

As Buckner rightly points out, people taking drugs in sport learn from the testing procedures how to avoid being caught. One only has to know that Marion Jones underwent more than 160 tests and was never found positive-- only for her to admit malpractice in a court case-- to realise that these new provisions in the Wada code could well be a major step forward in the unending struggle against cheating in sport.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · John Goodbody · Doping · Michael Buckner · Buckner Law

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