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Tue, 15 Nov 2016

Innocent athletes punished for doping

James Cook University researchers have found innocent athletes are being punished alongside those who deliberately dope.

JCU Associate Professors Stephen Moston and Terry Engelberg from the University’s College of Healthcare Sciences found about a quarter of all athletes sanctioned for anti-doping rule violations claim that their offences were accidental or inadvertent.

Dr Moston said while some such claims strain credibility, others are plausible explanations that strongly suggest innocence – resulting in blameless athletes being sanctioned.

“Anti-doping authorities say an athlete is responsible for everything that enters their body and sanctions are imposed regardless of the athlete’s motives. Athletes who have committed accidental doping breaches will typically be sanctioned as punitively as an athlete who systematically and intentionally doped,” he said.

Dr Moston said the rationale was that it was better to prosecute the occasional athlete who accidently dopes than to allow deliberate drug cheats a loophole.

“Anti-doping rules exist to protect the spirit of sport’, but if that means punishing innocent athletes, then something has gone seriously wrong,” he said.

“There are two main ways that anti-doping rules can be changed to help protect the innocent. The first option is to interview athletes and see if there was an intention to dope. The police interview criminals to establish intention, so there’s no reason why this can’t be adapted for athletes. The second option is to have a ‘reasonable person’ standard in anti-doping cases. This would help to avoid situations where even the sanctioning bodies accept that no real offence was committed.

Associate Professors Moston and Engelberg have previously conducted major research studies on anti-doping for the Australian Anti-Doping Research Program and the World Anti-Doping Agency. They are currently completing a study on accidental doping funded by the International Olympic Committee.

A study of 100 Australian anti-doping cases by Associate Professors Moston and Engelberg found that:

  • At least 23% of sanctioned cases involve claims of accidental or inadvertent doping.
  • There are seven types of accidental doping claims, with the two most common being 'the banned substance was in a nutritional supplement' and 'I was given medicine by a doctor’.
  • Athletes alleging accidental doping are typically sanctioned as severely as deliberately doping athletes, suggesting that claims of innocence are ignored.

The report Guilty Until Proven Innocent (and Then Still Guilty) will be released on November 15.


Associate Professor Stephen Moston