Protecting the Right to Enjoy Doping-Free Sport

The Story of Anti-Doping

Beth Tweddle

Samples being prepared for analysis

Doping in sport is a major challenge, as it not only threatens the integrity of sport but also puts athletes’ health at risk. Only by taking a concerted and comprehensive approach to the fight against doping in sport is it possible to protect the integrity of sport and the health of athletes worldwide.

Tackling doping in sport - the story so far

The practice of doping in sport is possibly as old as organised sport itself. Even in Ancient Greece, athletes used special diets and stimulants to build strength. However it was not until the 1920s that it became clear that restrictions were needed on drug use in sport.

The first International Sport Federation to ban the use of stimulating substances was the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1928, paving the way for many other sports to follow in their footsteps. However, no testing was carried out at this time. 

During the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome pressure mounted for sports authorities to introduce drug testing. Six years later, in 1966, the cycling and football federations (UCI and FIFA) introduced drug tests during their World Championships, pre-empting the first Olympic testing at the Grenoble Winter Games and the Olympics in Mexico, in 1968.

The scale of the problem

Athletes’ use of illicit substances continued to hit the headlines throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with rumours of state-sponsored doping in countries such as the former German Democratic Republic. With the disqualification of 100-metre champion Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, two things became clear: that top athletes were under immense pressure to succeed, and that methods of enhancing performance were becoming ever more sophisticated.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), then responsible for the list of substances banned in sport, was continually having to fight to catch up with developments in the world of doping. Although use was prevalent, it was not until 1974 that a reliable test for anabolic steroids was introduced, with the IOC adding them to the Prohibited List in 1976.

At the same time, methods such as ‘blood boosting’ were making detection increasingly difficult. Despite being in practice since the 1970s, the IOC did not ban blood doping as a method until 1986, highlighting how long it can take to get to grips with such complex methods.

From national to international approaches

The high profile of the Tour de France cycle race and the doping scandals associated with it made France the first country to introduce anti-doping legislation. Other countries followed suit, but international cooperation in anti-doping affairs was long restricted to the Council of Europe. During the 1980s there was a marked increase in cooperation between international sports authorities and various governmental agencies, but in spite of this, the result was a proliferation of definitions, policies and sanctions. Amidst the confusion, doping sanctions were often disputed and sometimes overruled in civil courts.

In 1998 a large number of prohibited medical substances were found by the police in a raid during the Tour de France. The scandal led to a major reappraisal of the role of public authorities in anti-doping affairs, and highlighted the need for an independent international agency which would set unified standards for anti-doping work and coordinate the efforts of sports organisations and public authorities.

The IOC seized the initiative and convened the first World Conference on Doping in Sport in Lausanne in February 1999. Following the proposal of the Conference, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was established on 10 November 1999.

Global harmonisation and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs)

The campaign to achieve doping-free sport is international, headed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). With the support of governments and sports bodies, it promotes, coordinates and monitors the fight against doping in sport across the world, through the World Anti-Doping Code.

WADA’s key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code – the document harmonising anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries. WADA's headquarters are in Montreal, Canada.

A second World Conference was held in 2003, attended by representatives of 80 governments and all major sports federations. The International Convention against Doping in Sport was unanimously adopted by UNESCO in 2005, which also saw the launch of ADAMS (the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System). A revised Anti-Doping Code came into force on 1 January 2015 and is supported by five international standards that ensure a uniform approach to anti-doping around the world.

More than 120 countries are signatories to the Code and have established National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs). NADOs are responsible for testing their national athletes during and outside competitions, athletes from other countries competing within their country, as well as adjudicating anti-doping rule violations and providing anti-doping education.

Anti-doping approaches in the UK

UK Anti-Doping was created in December 2009, following the recommendation by UK Sport to Government that a new, independent national anti-doping organisation should be established to lead the fight against doping in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. UKAD took over responsibility for testing and education from the ‘Drug Free Sport’ Directorate at UK Sport, together with case management responsibilities previously carried out by National Governing Bodies of Sports.

UKAD is responsible for the implementation and management of the UK’s anti-doping policy and ensuring that sports bodies in the UK comply with the Code. It delivers robust testing programmes across more than 40 Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports, undertakes scientific research to identify and detect new methods of enhancing performance.

Informing and educating athletes about their role and responsibilities towards anti-doping is a major part of UKAD’s remit, and educational programmes aim to inform athletes performing at every level. In 2010, UKAD launched Report Doping in Sport, a 24-hour confidential phone line and online information form to support the fight against doping in sport.

As the methods of doping become increasingly sophisticated, so too is the need for advanced methods of detection. During its first year of operation, UKAD established its Intelligence Unit to capture in-depth knowledge of doping activities and manage information from a wide range of sources. This enables effective and efficient collection, recording, analysis, dissemination and retention of information. UKAD is then able to prioritise issues and allocate resources to deal with them.

UKAD is an active participant in the global fight against doping and recognises the need to take an international approach. Partnerships with the World Anti-Doping Agency, UNESCO, the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO), the Council of Europe and the International Anti-Doping Agreement (IADA) are integral to UKAD’s international activities.

Responsibilities of every athlete

Introduced in 2004, the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) lists in detail every prohibited substance and method, the regulations for testing, and rules to protect athletes’ privacy. The Code is clear and UKAD exercises a policy of zero tolerance towards doping in sport.

Athletes are bound to comply with the Code through membership of the National Governing Body in their sport. Every athlete must take ultimate responsibility for every substance that enters their body.

To help athletes compete doping-free, UKAD carries out a wide range of activities. We work directly with athletes, support professionals and sports bodies to develop and deliver effective education and information programmes. We also carry out testing as a routine process and in response to intelligence, to deter and detect doping.

For further information on how we support athletes, see the Athlete Zone.