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Anti-doping discussions at ACT Branch Forum

Sport and exercise medicine physician David Hughes has been involved in elite sport for more than 20 years. He has provided medical services to a range of national and international sporting teams, including the Australian Wallabies, Canberra Raiders, Manchester City and the Australian Opals. David was the Opals’ team physician at the 2012 London Olympics and then Medical Director of the Australian Olympic Team for Rio 2016. He is also a member of the Australian Sports Integrity Network and is the independent integrity officer for the Western Bulldogs.

David’s work in keeping athletes fit and healthy also extends to advocating for their safety and security in an industry that is often besieged with news headlines of drug crises, calls for more frequent testing of athletes and tighter anti-doping laws. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regularly faces criticism in its efforts to have ‘clean’ competition in sport, but anti-doping systems in the industry are complex and bring many logistical and ethical challenges, David says. The Chief Medical Officer of the Australian Institute of Sport will speak about the global approach to antidoping and integrity in sport at next month’s ACT Branch Forum.

‘It’s not a perfect system, but it is a good system and one worth preserving,’ David says. ‘We will talk about how WADA is financed, how it is run, and governance issues in terms of anti-doping. When you have integrity issues in a sport or business, organisational governance failure is behind it.’

WADA was established in 1999 as an international independent agency to promote and coordinate the fight against doping in sport globally. Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code (Code)—the document harmonising anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries.

The Code is endorsed by more than 170 countries that have signed to UNESCO’s International Convention against Doping in Sport. The Convention was adopted in 2005, six years after calls from the international community to stamp out unethical behaviour, including doping, in all levels of sport. It represents the first time governments around the world have agreed to apply the force of international law to anti-doping. However, even this global effort in the fight against drugs in sport has its challenges, David explains.

‘The way sport is run in different countries can be a contributing issue. Cultural differences can be an ongoing cause of conflicts of interest between governing stakeholders,’ he says. ‘Add in flawed governance structures within anti-doping organisations, and a constantly changing array of doping agents, and it is a complex business. It’s like tax laws—you tweak something and you then have people changing their behaviour drastically to get around it.’

David’s leadership roles in Australian sports medicine include more than eight years on the Board of the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians, including two years as president. Since 2013, he has been a member of the Scientific Committee of the Collaborative Research Network for Advancing Exercise & Sports Science. Current research activities include investigation of genetic predisposition to bone and tendon injuries. As a medical professional, he is concerned about the impact the governance of sport has on athletes, particularly to their privacy and safety.

‘There is a lot of criticism from both sides of the fence when it comes to anti-doping. It is a controversial area, and some people think athletes get way with blue murder and anti-doping systems are too soft. Then, others say athletes are hard done by because what they are asked to do for anti-doping testing no other person would be asked to do the same in their workplace,’ David says.

‘The athlete is the end-user in the anti-doping system. Protecting their safety and welfare in attempting to provide a “clean” environment in which they compete, comes at a cost for them. Most of us would not accept the safety and security threat athletes have in having to supply details of where they will be every day of the year. This is an invasion of privacy and a safety issue for them.

‘After 25 years in sports medicine, it is my honest belief the vast overwhelming majority of people in sport want to compete clean. We need to explore and understand the issue of why anti-doping systems around the world are complex and why there are integrity issues within some sports.’ 

Marina Williams


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