A forensic approach to anti-doping

Anna Qvarfordt
University of Gävle


Stephen Moston & Terry Engelberg
Detecting Doping in Sport
181 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2017 (Routledge Research in Sport and Exercise Science)
ISBN 978-1-138-85762-9

Reformation of the anti-doping system in sport is the subject of this book in the Routledge series Research in Sport and Exercise Science. The authors, Stephen Moston and Terry Engelberg, are Australian doping scholars who wish to make a difference on the matter of doping detection. Their argument for the need for change is that the current bio-testing strategy is flawed. The approach taken by anti-doping authorities so far, with doping controls being the main measure for detection and deterrence, is, according to Moston and Engelberg, misdirected, not efficient and concluded to be a “failure”. The authors discuss the criminalisation of doping in sports and explore how methods used within the forensic area can be applied in anti-doping settings. Moston and Engelberg use a multi-scientific approach, drawing on research from the fields of forensic psychology, criminology and sport management, to name a few. Throughout the book, the various topics are highlighted with examples from different sports settings, which meritoriously illustrates the authors’ argumentations.

The book is three-parted, and the first part, “Anti-doping investigations”, is a scrutiny of the current situation. The authors establish that the cheats always are ahead of the testers as bio-testing fails to detect and deter. Connections between sport and crime and criminal histories of athletes are discussed. They claim that these connections mostly are unacknowledged as “few really want to know the truth about crime and sport” (p. 7). Furthermore, they are critical toward the contradictions in the justification of anti-doping policy, the uncertainty of anti-doping statistics and the psychological risk profiling of doping athletes, which altogether form a basis for their advocacy for a more investigative approach, which to some extent already have been applied by WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. In recent years, anti-doping authorities have been working with coordinated investigations, involving police and the judicial system. Moston and Engelberg emphasize that the results of these investigations by far exceed the work that anti-doping organisations perform on their own. Yet, they conclude that this approach has had its faults, with false confessions, wrong decision-making and errors due to lack of appropriate training of investigators and therefore the authors want to see more of forensic methods in anti-doping.

The second part of the book, “Interrogating athletes”, can be seen as an argumentation for application of the forensic approach. Moston and Engelberg are critical of the fact that athletes in the current system have no real possibility of denial, in accordance with the principle of strict liability, that athletes are liable for all substances in their own bodies regardless of intention. They argue that evidence, i.e., a positive doping test, is not the same as evidence of a doping crime. Instead, the intention of the athlete should be investigated: ”The detected presence of a substance will be a starting point for an investigation, not its endpoint” (p 93). With the current anti-doping system, it is seldom that athletes are the source of information that could be of assistance in the detection of doping. There is no systematic questioning in connection with doping tests and the authors find that anti-doping authorities seem to be satisfied focusing on bio-testing while missing the opportunity to collect evidence in another way. For better information gathering, the authors suggest looking at methods from the forensic field on interviewing techniques and suspect behaviour analysis for application in anti-doping settings. One recommendation is to interview athletes in connection with doping controls and to make use of athletes’ confessions for development of detections methods and anti-doping education. The code of silence that according to the authors exists among athletes could be broken by adopting a talk-to-people approach.

In the third and last part of the book, “The future of anti-doping investigations”, Moston and Engelberg sketch guidelines for the application of the forensic approach. The drug detection game that the bio-testing approach entails is a process with no end, according to the authors. They propose what they call innovative methods to meet innovative ways to dope. Examples of methods, mainly borrowed from police operational practices, are whistleblowing and anonymous tips, to use offenders as informants, and to analyse the diffusion of innovations. However, Moston and Engelberg seem to distrust sports authorities’ willingness to disclose doping activities, as they find these methods available and applicable in sports settings, but not yet have been adopted by authorities. The authors discuss the pros and cons of criminalising doping in sport (legislation against doping is indeed already enacted in a number of countries) and suggest as one alternative that WADA and NADOs (National Anti-Doping Organisations) would be responsible for education, for instance, while local law enforcement is to conduct investigations. They argue for investigative interviewing similar to those in forensic or police contexts. However, they emphasize that there are differences between a criminal justice system and anti-doping investigative processes, so that if methods from the former are to be applied within the latter, they must be adjusted in proper ways.

Their second recommendation is to criminalise doping, with the prime argument to protect the athletes.

In the very last chapter of the book with the creative heading “Doping, anti-doping and anti-anti-doping”,the authorsare critical towards social science doping research for not contributing with constructive solutions and instead have had an anti-anti-doping approach. Moston and Engelberg themselves want to provide a solution, and they come up with five clear recommendations that they mean would facilitate detection of doping in future efforts. The first recommendation concerns a new definition of doping. The authors have formulated a definition that is supposed to provide a solution to the long-standing debate about doping being defined as a violation of a set of rules in the regulatory framework rather than developing a real conceptual definition. Their second recommendation is to criminalise doping, with the prime argument to protect the athletes. The authors emphasize that the current system punishes innocent athletes as well, e.g., as in the case of systemic doping by Russia which led to all athletes being banned. It is underlined that a criminalisation would protect individuals’ rights in accordance with modern criminal justice systems. The third recommendation is to change research priorities to favour research that is directly applicable and useful to the anti-doping system, and Moston and Engelberg call for more interaction between scholars and anti-doping authorities. To assess the impact of doping (not incidence) is the fourth recommendation and lastly, the fifth recommendation is that anti-doping testing is to be conducted by an independent agency. Moston and Engelberg’s major argument for independent testing bodies (which to my knowledge already exist, WADA being the largest) is the assumption that sports organisations have an interest in sport being viewed as “clean” and therefore not always want to detect doping. Moston and Engelberg conclude by accentuating that the doping issue within sports hitherto hasnot been addressed in an efficient way. They rather squarely underline that “WADA have spectacularly failed to show true leadership, adopting a secretive and largely shoot-from-the-hip approach to dealing with the complexities of doping” (p. 147).

Moston and Engelberg’s mission to contribute to this complex issue by advocating a more investigative strategy including interviews and interrogations of athletes is clear, but after having read the book I am left with some questions regarding the authors’ recommendations. For instance, what will be the consequences of national criminal laws against doping in sport? One of the main reasons for the formation of WADA at the beginning of this century was the possibility to harmonise rules in order to create equal conditions for athletes worldwide. If national laws are to be superior, in contrast to the present situation in which the global World Anti-Doping Code overrides national legal systems, how can equality for athletes be upheld? Another issue concerns the possibility to pursue a forensic anti-doping system in terms of economic and personnel resources.

The authors’ intention with this book is to examine the intelligence approach adopted by anti-doping authorities during the last decade and to “highlight the opportunities and threats” of investigative processes. Accordingly, there is reasoning about the possible negative outcome of such an approach. However, by and large the authors argue for the development of anti-doping in the direction of viewing doping as a criminal act that is to be managed by forensic and police methods. Moston and Engelberg’s forensic oriented focus can be seen as a step towards a clampdown on the athletes in the work against doping in sport. I would have liked to see a wider discussion about the view of athletes as potentially criminal and what the use of more powerful enforcement methods would mean for the legitimacy of the system and, in turn, compliance. Such an approach could be seen as an instrumental method for upholding regulations and indicate that there are two opposing sides in the “fight against doping”; on the one hand, the powerful agencies with the authority to apply forensic and detective methods, and on the other the potentially criminal and increasingly defenceless athletes.

Copyright © Anna Qvarfordt 2018

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.