Doping in Sports: What it is and How to Stop it with Whistleblowing

Doping in Sports: What it is and How to Stop it with Whistleblowing

Whistleblowers are a valuable resource when it comes to ending doping in sports. Find out more about doping and how we can work together to stop it.

Though only about 2 per cent of athletes test positive for banned substances each year, research suggests that up to 57 per cent may actually be doping. Doping in sports has been a major problem since the 1960s, with steroids, human growth hormone, and other enhancements changing the face of athletics.

One way we can work together to combat doping in sports is to support and promote whistleblowing. Whistleblowers are an invaluable asset to doping investigations, as they provide first-hand accounts of violations.

With such a serious allegation as doping, you don't want to miss anything. Use our investigation plan template to ensure you conduct a thorough investigation.


What is Doping in Sports?

According to Transparency International, doping is a catch-all term for "sports crimes that aim to chemically modify the performance of a player to influence the result of a match or competition."

Doping refers to "actions taken to improve the performance of a player" but can also include "actions taken to debilitate or reduce the performance of a player."

A wide variety of substances can be used for doping to give athletes an edge. Some of the substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency include:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Metabolic modulators, which enhance endurance and suppress estrogen production
  • Diuretics, used to flush out other drugs or help the athlete quickly lose weight

These substances may not be used by athletes at any time. While athletes are competing, stimulants, cannabinoids, narcotics, and glucocorticoids (which reduce pain and inflammation) are also banned.

Marijuana provides a particularly tricky dilemma for some athletes. Some countries, including Canada and Uruguay, have legalized recreational cannabis but testing positive for cannabinoids is still prohibited for athletic competitions. Banned substances are determined by an international standard according to the World Anti-Doping Code.

Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)

However, not every case of using a prohibited substance is considered doping in sports. Athletes can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) if they have a medical condition that requires them to take a prescription medication that contains a banned substance.

In order for a TUE to be granted, though, four qualifications must be met. The athlete in question must:

  • experience health problems without using the prohibited substance or method
  • not experience a significant performance enhancement as a result of using the substance or method
  • have no other alternative to using the substance or method
  • not need to use the substance or method because they used it before without a TUE

Ethics of Doping in Sports

Doping in sports raises several ethical issues.

First off, using a prohibited substance can be dangerous to the athlete's health. While they enhance performance in some ways, most of the banned substances also have negative side effects. From hormone imbalances to heart problems, there are reasons athletes shouldn't use these substances unless directed by a doctor.

Doping in sports is also flat-out cheating. It gives athletes an unfair advantage (or gives an opponent a disadvantage) that takes away the level playing field.

Similarly, doping does not fit in with the sportsmanlike spirit. Play the Game, an initiative by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies says, "rather than being a contest between persons and their athletic skills, sports contests with doped athletes are likely to be transformed into struggles between the most medically and technologically administered body."

Coercion is another major ethical problem that arises due to doping in sports. Athletes who dope either directly or indirectly coerce clean athletes into using banned substances, too. Clean athletes feel that they no longer have a chance at winning if they don't dope, so they go against their best judgement and values to keep a competitive edge.

Finally, corruption and doping go hand-in-hand. Bribing or promising favors to officials in exchange for them ignoring offenses or changing or omitting test results helps doping athletes get ahead.

Why Whistleblowing in Sports is Important

Many whistleblowers work for sports organizations and may be hesitant or even fearful about reporting corrupt acts. On the other hand, a whistle blower may not affiliated with any organization but believe in keeping sports fair and clean for fans and athletes alike.

While fear of retaliation may hold them back, whistleblowers should know just how important their role is to combatting doping in sports. Policies and testing can only do so much against doping and other forms of athletic wrongdoing.

According to Whistleblowing of Harmful Irregularities in Sport Through Learning & Education (WHISTLE), first-hand accounts offer "invaluable insights into many sport forms of corruption, and are powerful tools in the fight against it."

Some specific values of whistleblowing in sports include:

  • Revealing and penalizing wrongdoing on the part of sports organizations and athletes
  • Protecting athletes' health
  • Promoting a fair and clean sports environment
  • Creating a sports culture that values freedom of expression
  • Detecting and fixing problems before they become too serious
  • Increasing legitimacy and trust in sports organizations for fans and employees

Learn how to encourage whistleblowers to report offenses and get the most out of your whistleblower program with this free cheat sheet.

How to Support Whistleblowers

If we want to benefit from a safe, fair, and clean athletic environment, we must all support and promote whistleblowing.

The easiest way to do this is to emphasize how important whistleblowers are to investigations of doping in sports. Encouraging self-efficacy is good for whistleblowing programs because, according to WHISTLE, "people are empowered and motivated to set and achieve a goal when they believe they can successfully do it."

Keeping consistent social norms, especially in sports organizations, also promotes whistleblowing.

When people see a behavior that is not supported by the athletic community (like doping), the inconsistency makes them feel conflicted. Setting the tone at the top and ensuring employees "practice what they preach" not only encourages whistleblowing, but also reduces the need for it.

Governments and law enforcement need to offer more support for anti-doping agencies and sports organizations, too.

These organizations often do not have the funds or manpower to give whistleblowers the security, professional advice, and financial assistance they need. More help from the law would benefit whistleblowers while at the same time discouraging athletic corruption.

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Whistleblowing in Sports Resources

Blowing the whistle on ethics violations like doping in sports can be scary. However, whistleblowers are an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to combatting corrupt practices. Luckily, there is a large number of secure platforms on which to report sports organizations that are not following best practices.

World Anti-Doping Agency: The international anti-doping organization has a reporting feature on its website called Speak Up! Whistleblowers can report doping allegations and communicate with WADA either by providing contact information or anonymously through a secure mailbox. The tool is also available as a mobile app.

International Association of Athletics Federations Athletics Integrity Unit: Here whistleblowers from around the world can report doping in sports as well as non-doping misconduct. It uses a secure webform and reports can be anonymous.

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport: This Canadian organization's Report Doping tool offers numerous ways to report doping in sports and other ethical concerns. Whistleblowers can choose from filling out an online form, setting up a secure post box, sending an email, calling a hotline, or using a mobile app.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency: Based in the USA, this organization has a reporting tool called the Play Clean Tip Center. Whistleblowers have the option of reporting via email, mail, phone, or a webform and can choose to be anonymous throughout the process.

UK Anti-Doping: The UKAD offers perhaps the widest range of reporting options. Their Reporting Doping in Sport page offers the typical options of email, an anonymous phone hotline, and a webform, but also social media and WhatsApp contact information.

FairSport: This organization provides support for whistleblowers in the form of legal and financial assistance, media guidance, counseling, and more. According to its website, it is the "only independent foundation to help individuals report wrongdoing." It offers different levels of security for reporting, from a webform to a secure email platform to an encryption key.

SportsLeaks: This secure whistleblowing platform allows whistleblowers to reveal doping in sports and other cheating allegations to a team of investigative journalists from around the world. This resource should be used as a last resort, though, as whistleblowers may lose their protection rights or control of the case. Always report to an anti-doping agency or your league first if possible.

U.S. Center for Safe Sport: SafeSport uses a secure platform for reporting wrongdoing in sports. Their easy-to-use webform lets whistleblowers fill in incident details and upload supporting documents for evidence. Reporters have the option to remain anonymous.

Many other organizations specific to each sport (like the International Cycling Union) also have their own reporting tools.

Do you work for a sports organization or athletic club? Why not set up your own doping reporting tool? Case IQ's hotline feature makes it easy for whistleblowers to report ethics concerns.

Whistleblowing is the Key to Eradicating Doping

From Russian Olympic athletes to Lance Armstrong to Alex Rodriguez, doping in sports has become a huge problem. It is harmful to athletes, ruins the sportsmanlike atmosphere, and breeds corruption. Whistleblowers are the key to eradicating doping and making the world of athletics a better place.