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WADA tried to bury a doping study

Aug 23, 2013, 8:54 AM EDT


This is interesting: the New York Times reports that some World Anti-Doping Agency researchers did a study which revealed that doping was way more commonplace than people think but that WADA prevented them from publishing it:

The researchers were eager to publish their results, which they believed would expose a harsh reality of modern sports: that far more athletes are doping than might be imagined, and that current drug-testing protocols catch few of the cheaters. But after a final draft of the study was submitted to the antidoping agency, the organization ultimately told the researchers they could not publish their findings at this time …


  • It was bad research. I don’t know that lay people can know that. The article describes the process but no one is on record criticizing the methodology or anything;
  • It was embarrassing to WADA in that it showed that a huge numbers of dopers are not being caught in a sport that it polices;
  • A study showing widespread, even routine doping by athletes flies in the face of WADA’s and other PED-hawks’ rhetoric about doping being evil, aberrant and borderline criminal. Lots of people are doing it, suggesting it’s a chronic thing instead of some shocking transgression against decency.

Not that those are the only possibilities or that these are mutually-exclusive.

But I believe that this sort of thing needs to be acknowledged whenever someone starts talking about how baseball or other U.S. team sports should adopt the tough protocols of WADA. Usually those calls come from WADA spokesmen, of course, and are offered without any criticism or question in the articles in which they appear. WADA isn’t perfect, guys, and they aren’t always on the side of the angels. They have agendas like everyone else.

  1. brewcrewfan54 - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Don’t forget the part how if all the people they get money from realize they aren’t catching anyone the financing dries up.

    • paperlions - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:21 AM

      This. WADA is a for profit enterprise. Their primary goal is to spread their brand to maximize profit, not to clean up anything. For business to be good, they only need to catch enough athletes to convince leagues/sports/fans that they need to keep paying WADA.

      In a email interview with a clinical researcher that has been dealing with the “steroid thing” for more than two decades, he indicated that PED use in all sports is far more common than people think, that beating testing systems is fairly easy, and that all athletes need is a capable consultant that is familiar with the testing system to design a protocol that won’t be detected (i.e. that won’t test positive even if you are using something they test for). He also said that he had been asked dozens of times to act in such a capacity and had always refused…though a pessimist, he didn’t want to contribute to the system. He also noted that, from a clinical standpoint, alcohol, tobacco, and amphetamines are far worse for your health than steroids.

      To me, people on the PED moral high ground are the same hypocrites that rail on ARod or Braun for lying. Everyone lies, and usually about far less important things that cheating at sports, which could be considered worse….if you lie about things that really don’t matter, you’ll lie about anything.

      Of course, we also live in the “let’s medicate everything” society. There isn’t anything my doctor perceives as a problem that he won’t try to make me take drugs for….to quote him “yes, diet and exercise can lower your blood pressure (which was only 135/85 on the visit), but I’m going to prescribe you this anyway because the side effect profile is very small.” Seriously, that was his basis for suggesting drugs, essentially, “you don’t really need it, but it won’t hurt anything”.

      • Francisco (FC) - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:39 AM

        To me, people on the PED moral high ground are the same hypocrites that rail on ARod or Braun for lying. Everyone lies

        Dr. Gregory House approves.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Aug 23, 2013 at 10:56 AM

        Going back to something in your post paper, last year a guy was suspended who’s name I cant recall right now and he apologized for getting caught. He didn’t apologize for using, he apologized for being dumb and getting caught. That speaks volumes for how these guys know there’s ways to skirt the system and why I personally just can’t pretend to be outraged or care for that matter, when someone gets caught.

  2. jarathen - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    I have been surprised at the response people had to Lance Armstrong’s admitted guilt. This guy won year after year after year in a competition that is almost always dirty; how could he possibly be clean?

    There are too many positive incentives in place for athletes to not try to get every edge they can. For some, talent and dedication is enough. But one “nagging injury” or the onset of age or just enough ego (and most athletes have a healthy supply of that) is all it takes for a player to try to stay as successful as possible.

  3. crispybasil - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Interesting, I think there’s a case for WADA to release the study and say something like, “See, you NEED us to fight this widespread problem!”

    • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:15 AM

      Except that testing science will always be behind PED science. There will always be people who get away with it, until tesing science catches up and they move on to the next thing. Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for as level of a playing field as possible. If PEDs didn’t provide an advantage, no one would be using them.

      • paperlions - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        The problem, isn’t really even the science. A smart consultant can design PED usage such that you can gain benefits and the test still come back within the margin of error. Because people vary so much, there is a pretty big error bar around the average for just about any steroid produced by the body, and those have to be accounted for to avoid false positives. Smart usage can put the athlete in top end of “normal” so s/he benefits without “testing” positive….and by using multiple things at the same time to achieve synergistic effects, this can probably be done without much risk.

        Heck, cycling has tested heavily for over a decade…what we have learned recently is that pretty much everyone in cycling that won anything was cheating and always cheating and never caught.

  4. clarenceoveur - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Does anyone really think otherwise? Its pretty common knowledge the testers are always years behind the users and the idea behind Biogenesis and Balco and the many others they haven’t stumbled on yet is to beat the tests. It stands to reason that only a fraction of users have gotten caught.

    If you’re of the belief that “everybody does it, so why should we care” this sounds like awesome news! WADA sucks! But I doubt that’s how it plays out, if this story gets major publicity, the reaction is likely more shrieking End of Times headlines and stiffer penalties.

  5. runyetirun - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Heh. Dick Pound.

  6. misterj167 - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    There was an episode of “Night Court” where prosecutor Dan Fielding was accused of bias as judge of a local NYC beauty pageant because he had slept with the winner. But as it turned out, he had slept with all the contestants, so there was no real bias at all.

    Bearing that in mind, can we say that if everyone is cheating, then no one is?

    • 18thstreet - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:50 AM

      I really wondered where you were going with this. I really applaud your ability to bring Night Court into this discussion. Well done!

  7. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    More people ARE cheating than we know. And it’s because testing IS terribly lax at catching cheaters. Take the entire Biogenesis deal. Of a list of 20 or so people, only 3. That’s THREE (3) were caught as a result of testing. The rest were caught because a local newspaper received a tip and did some investigative journalism. There is no reason not to believe that illegal drug use is rampant in all major sports.

    It doesn’t give us the right to go around on a witch hunt and blindly accusing athletes of cheating, but it should give a rational mind pause to say “Hey, maybe this approach isn’t working”.

    What we need to do is change the culture around PEDs. Steroids, PED’s, etc have to be dirty, filthy words in sports. They have to be so horrifically bad that teammates will rat out each other proudly and loudly if they know of someone else to be users. There needs to be anonymous tip lines, and it needs to be understood that the penalties for doping are swift, severe, and public.

    And even then. We will NEVER be 100% clean. There is just too many motivating factors for a player to use. Too many justifications.

  8. Ben - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Fair or unfair, in sports like cycling and track I assume that people are doping until we learn otherwise. This assumption is more or less born or out. Go have a look at the list of how many Tour de France winners have been stripped of their titles.

  9. blacksables - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    This is why baseball isn’t in the Olympics. MLB refused to give its rights to test and discipline it’s own players to WADA’s draconian penalties (two years is ridiculous).

    WADA has the IOC in it’s hip pocket.

    Say what you will about Bud, but he did the right thing here.

    • paperlions - Aug 23, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Completely agree. This is entertainment and careers are short. I still think a structure that simply suspends a player for 1 year each time they are caught would be the best approach (or maybe, 1/2 year for 1st violation and 1 year for each subsequent violation). By the time a guy gets to 3 positives, he’s lost 2.5 years…which isn’t much different to most than an life-time ban….and that feels far closer to a reasonable penalty considering the crime (which is still only trying to cheat at baseball), than telling a person they have to find a new line of work…many leagues honor suspensions in other leagues, so players banned for life can’t go play in Japan, or Korea, or many other places to make a living.

      • blacksables - Aug 23, 2013 at 10:06 AM

        Exactly. I didn’t take my point out that far, but you covered it.

  10. pappageorgio - Aug 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    As much as people want to look for sinister motives……it was probably just bad research.

    WADA loves press way too much to let any opportunities go by them. They wouldn’t look at a report like this as “we’re failing”, it would be pushed as “we need more money/power to keep up with the cheats”.

    Most likely, when they put thier fact-checkers to work, they found that the authors of the study made some questionable decisions and/or assertions. They didn’t want to release a study that they knew was flawed and probably couldn’t be defended.

    IMO doping agencies go about it all wrong. They pander to the press and want to make big name splashes. If I want a weed out of my yard, I don’t pull at the leaves at the top….because I’ll only get a leaf. If I want that sucker gone, I pull from the root. Same with this…….they need to spend the funding in youth and minor leagues, not picking and pulling from the already diseased and dead portion.

    • paperlions - Aug 23, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      Yeah, think of all that bad research commissioned by the tobacco industry that they refused to make public because it said smoking could kill you. If it was bad research, then it would have been ripped in peer review or afterwards by other studies. The problem with studies commissioned by groups with a vested interest is that if the findings aren’t what they wanted they either bury the results or they actively commit fraud so that the “new and improved data” say what they want it to say.

      This has been a problem for decades. The pesticide/herbicide industry is famous for their pseudo-science fraud…amazingly, as soon as the scientists they pay to say their shit isn’t bad for the environment are no longer on their payroll, the results of their new studies contradict everything that they did why funded by the corporation(s). In all such contracts, the corporate entity retains the right to approve any data or publications based on the data…meaning, they just change the facts.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 23, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      As much as people want to look for sinister motives……it was probably just bad research.

      WADA loves press way too much to let any opportunities go by them. They wouldn’t look at a report like this as “we’re failing”, it would be pushed as “we need more money/power to keep up with the cheats”.

      Did you read the accompanying article? I really don’t know how people are saying it’s bad research if they read what was done. When you take an anonymous survey, that the takers could have stopped at any time, and 29% and 45% respectively say that they’ve used PEDs in the past year, but WADA has only caught 2%, gee I wonder why WADA doesn’t want the results released.

  11. ctony1216 - Aug 23, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Former WADA chairman admitted that WADA doesn’t have the resources — or the mandate — to stop doping. That doesn’t mean MLB or the NFL don’t have the resources. It just means WADA doesn’t have those resources:

    Here’s what former WADA chairman, Dick Pound, said:

    “There is no general appetite to undertake the effort and expense of a successful effort to deliver doping-free sport.” … “There’s this psychological aspect about it: nobody wants to catch anybody. There’s no incentive. Countries are embarrassed if their nationals are caught. And sports are embarrassed if someone from their sport is caught.”

    The NFL and the NBA do have the resources to improve testing, and MLB players seem to want to rid the game of PEDs. That’s something, at least.

    • dcarroll73 - Aug 23, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      ctony, you wrote, “MLB players seem to want to rid the game of PEDs.” Other than a few anecdotal quotes, where is the evidence of this? The A-rod HBP is still being talked about as if it was some sort of player justice even though it appears it was a bit of juvenile revenge for being dissed. I have no firm evidence on my side either, but my view is that very few players want to risk losing a big amount of money and career prime time over what could in fact be a false positive. When people start adding in the voiding contracts talk, I would bet the player support shrivels like George Constanza (“It was COLD!”)

      • ctony1216 - Aug 23, 2013 at 2:06 PM

        The players unions for both MLB and the NFL have already taken step to improve or enhance testing, including adding HGH testing. All indications are that they’re continuing to go further in that direction:

        “Weiner said in late November that baseball and the union would “make some meaningful strides in both of the areas of testosterone and HGH detection before the 2013 season starts.”

        Additionally in 2013, players’ urine samples will be automatically subjected to sophisticated Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing if a specimen does “vary materially from a player’s baseline values.”


  12. koufaxmitzvah - Aug 23, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    WADA, and organizations that formulate acceptable behavior, are almost always going to get it wrong.

    The Church. The Government. The UN. Have any of these institutions actually benefited the large majority of the people with transparency and the struggle to find truth?

    Or have these and other organizations used their places in society to proclaim a self-importance that, when you follow their line of thinking, goes straight to their bank accounts and pocket books.

    Remember, it was WADA who stripped the Silver medal in Snowboarding because the dude smoked pot. That is how one becomes a White Bread Dipshit Org with zero credibility.

    • World of Piano - Jun 10, 2015 at 10:58 AM

      Well said! Another rubbish organisation, FIDE (it oversees World Chess), has adopted WADA’s completely inappropriate rules. As if chess were a sport like Athletics or Weightlifting or Swimming or Boxing or Cycling! That means that Cannabis is banned in-competition, even though it is a PDD (Performance Destroying Drug) rather than a PED. Smoking it within a few hours of a game is likely to REDUCE a player’s strength by 200 or 300 rating points, and smoking it any time is likely to reduce the quality of training and preparation.

      One result is that hardly any tournaments in the Netherlands choose to be run under FIDE regulations or to send results to FIDE for rating.

  13. pesky99 - Aug 23, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Why so many Dominican Summer Leaguer’s doing this stuff?
    “I want to be like the a-rod”!

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