This article is part of a ParaSport News series of articles looking at doping in the Paralympic, Deaflympic and disability sports movement.
Transparency has become the name of the game in the fight to battle doping in sport. World Anti-Doping Code (WADA) requires that all Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) be published. Athletics, football and cycling are all sports that have taken major hits in the past few years because of transparency issues contributing to doping scandals and corruption in sports. Similar problems with transparency issues appear to exist in disability sport owing to the lack of transparency by international sports federations (ISF) and national anti-doping agencies.
An extensive review by ParaSport News of national doping agencies and ISFs identified several key areas when it comes to doping transparency and information available to the general public in terms of doping and Paralympic sport. These problems make it difficult to understand the scope of any doping problems.
Despite WADA rules, a number of countries and ISFs who are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency do not compile numbers and publish reports related to their anti-doping sanctions on their website, nor do they appear to release annual reports, anti-doping reports or minutes published elsewhere that contain this information. This is especially a problem outside bigger nations and in less visible sports who have not had their sport subject to doping scandals including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, and lots of countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is impossible to understand the scope of the problem if the data is just not available.
When information on anti-doping activities is available, national anti-doping agencies and ISFs do not share this data consistently and via the same channels. Some organizations publish anti-doping statistics and position ADRV information as special anti-doping subpages on their websites. Some publish it in their medical and rules sections. Others publish it in their governance sections of their websites. Some only make this information available either as specific anti-doping reports in PDF format year to year, or as a page in their annual reports. Some only release this information via media updates. What they do release varies widely as it relates to ADRVs.
ISFs or national doping agencies may only provide numbers of positive results, limited to total per sanction drug type or sport. This may or may not be situated alongside other doping statistics, including total number of people tested, what sports were tested and how doping tests were funded. Some ISFs and anti-doping agencies have lists of sanctions, which may or may not actually include names. These lists may contain nothing more than a name, date of sanction and sport involved with. It may also include start date of sanction, end date of sanction, specific doping offense with the name of the drug involved or the rule violation, type of sanction, length of the sanction and in what context the positive result occurred. In a few cases, this information is accompanied by copies of the judicial review of the case. The national agencies with the most information and great level of transparency include the United States, Australia, Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Morocco, Latvia, Serbia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Belarus. The ISFs that deal with disability sports who also provide the greatest level of transparency include the International Paralympic Committee, Union Cycliste Internationale, International Tennis Federation and the International Canoe Federation.
Since the 1980s, there have been varying degrees of effort to integrate in disability sport, which can encompass Paralympic sport, Deaflympic sport, Special Olympic sport and other sports for people with disabilities, into various international sporting organizations. Such integration has happened on the Paralympic level for a number of sports including sailing, cycling, rowing, equestrian, tennis, table tennis, taekwondo, curling, archery, badminton and triathlon. WADA and the IPC have also been working for a number of years to get national anti-doping agencies to be the agency that handles the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) doping issues inside a country. This creates additional complexities when it comes to transparency in Paralympic sport: It becomes impossible in many case to separate out able-bodied competitors from their parasport counterparts even when doping sanction information and anti-doping data is available. Everyone is treated the same, even when they are dealing with different types of competition. In almost all cases, the available documentation does not make clear if a country’s para-cyclists or wheelchair tennis are listed as under that cycling and tennis respectively, or under a separate category like their NPC with no record for Paralympic sport because the relevant agency does not test them.
The latter situation is not just bad for Paralympic sport, but also for Olympic sport in a country as research has found that doping violations occur at a much lower rate on the Paralympic side than the Olympic side. Lots of para-cyclists getting tested could mask doping issues on the Olympic side because they bring the percentages down for the whole sport.
Lack of data, lack of consistent types of data released in similar type of locations, and lack of aggregating sport specific Olympic, Paralympic and Deaflympic doping violations creates a situation that fosters an overall lack of transparency about doping in Paralympic sport. This hinders broader understanding of issues of doping inside the Paralympic movement on a national and international level.