Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics

I am happy to report that my academic paper on "sex testing" in elite sport has passed peer review and in now in press. The paper has been several years in the works and totals more than 10,500 words. Whew.

In the paper I critique:
  • Fears of fraud in elite sport (men posing as women)
  • Concerns about fairness (the need to protect women from other women)
  • The idea that science can solve this issue (It can't)
I also offer a suggested way forward based on a procedural approach to classification rather than a substantive approach. Nationality classification shows that this can be done.

Here is the abstract:
Abstract

In many settings, decision makers look to science as the basis for making decisions that are made difficult by their social or political context. Sport is no different. For more than a half century sports officials have looked to science to provide a clear distinction between men and women for purposes of determining who is eligible to participate in women’s athletic competitions. However, the science of sex provides overwhelming evidence that there is no such clear biological demarcation that differentiates men and women. Despite this evidence, the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2011 implemented a form of “sex testing” based on androgens, and specifically, testosterone levels in females. This paper evaluates this policy, finding it contradictory to scientific understandings of sex and counter to widely-held social norms about gender. The paper recommends an alternative approach to determining eligibility for participation in women’s sports events, one more consistent with the stated values of sports organizations, and more generally, with principles of human dignity.
Here is the citation:
Pielke, Jr., R. 2017, in press. Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics.
If you would like a pre-publication copy as accepted, just send me an email. The page proof version should be online in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?

Last week a dispute between WADA and the IOC became public. The Chair of the WADA Athlete Committee Beckie Scott told the BBC that she did not believe that a monetary fine would be a sufficient basis for allowing Russian athletes to rejoin international competitions. The interview came after the WADA Athlete Committee issued a statement following its meeting in London last week. That statement included 8 outcomes, one of which was: "The Committee requested that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) improve and strengthen its independence and continually strive to increase the quality of its arbitrators."

CAS is closely related to the IOC and its independence has been the subject of considerable debate over the years (here is a good overview in PDF). CAS is overseen by officials of the IOC and its related sports bodies.

Then just a few days later, two members of the WADA Athletes Committee who are also the chair and vice-chair of the IOC Athletes' Commisstion (Angela Ruggiero and Tony Estanguet) issued a hard-hitting rebuke of Beckie Scott . They wrote:
"We believe the comments made by the chair of WADAs Athlete Committee are inappropriate at this time. We do not wish to speculate, and we hope that other Athletes’ Commissions will refrain from comment until the full facts of the case emerge and the investigations are completed."
The full IOC Athletes' Commission issued a further statement that took issue with the statement of the WADA Athletes Committee:
“As the IOC Athletes’ Commission and also members of the WADA Athlete Committee, we believe the comments questioning the independence of CAS and the quality of the arbitrators is misguided. A number of highest courts of different countries have confirmed the independence of CAS and such comments only lead to mistrust and confusion. We support CAS in its ability to fight for clean sport and want to reassure the athletes of the world in this regard.”
The WADA Athlete Committee has 18 members (here in PDF), five of which are also members of the IOC Athletes' Commission. The members of the IOC Athlete Commission are also full members of the IOC.

Those five members have signed onto a statement that calls for improving and strengthening the independence of CAS and they have also signed on to a statement that contradicts the earlier statement that they signed onto, defending the independence of CAS.

Confusing?  Perhaps.  But there appears to be a simple explanation of why these 5 athletes would sign onto to different statements saying opposite things just a few days apart, the first from WADA and the second from IOC.

They have a conflict of interest.

As IOC members they are representatives of the IOC's interests, which do not always coincide with the objectives and policies of WADA. The five athletes who signed on to the WADA statement last week were obviously shown the error of their ways in the days that followed, upon which they issued their corrective statement.

This is a problem.

Earlier this year, in testimony before the US Congress, Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, characterized the role of IOC officials in WADA governance as "the fox guarding the hen house" (here in PDF).  He explained of IOC officials ("sport members"):
"These sport members are not mere figureheads but are lifetime sport executives with strong incentive to influence WADA decisions to advance their own sport interests. . . Unfortunately, WADA’s governance structure, lacking any meaningful conflict of interest policy to separate sport interests from WADA governance"
Tygart suggested that there is a quick fix:
The good news is that WADA’s conflicted governance model could be easily solved by removing sport leaders from the WADA governance and implementing a proper conflict-of interest policy which prohibits governing members from simultaneously holding a governing role within a sports organization under WADA’s jurisdiction. 
WADA does have a conflict of interest policy (here in PDF) which states:
"Every person who is subject to the Policy shall, in the exercise of his or her functions on behalf of WADA, be free of undue influence or other factors which may give rise to a conflict between his or her own interest or the interest of any other person and that of WADA."
We have clear evidence that five members of the WADA Athlete Committee have a clear conflict with respect to their IOC roles. What is the WADA procedure for dealing with such a situation?
The WADA President with the Director General or if the President is not available the Vice President with the Director General, and any other person that the President may from time to time designate for this purpose, shall take all appropriate measures to ensure compliance with this Policy, including the determination of appropriate preventive measures, the determination of whether there has been a breach of the Policy and the determination of sanctions where there has been a breach of this Policy.
Easy then, right?

The WADA President simply needs to say that this situation is ridiculous and remove (or ask to resign) the athletes with a clear conflict of interest. The IOC athletes could then speak for the IOC from their commission and the WADA athletes could speak from their committee. Conflict removed. Mixed messages cleaned up.

Who is the WADA President? Craig Reedie, member of the IOC since 1994.

Uh-oh.

Let me answer the question I posed in the title: Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?  

No, of course not. But when you dig into this a bit you see clearly how WADA is compromised by IOC members participating in its governance. This should be fixed.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Vojtěch Sommer Doping Case: More Bad Science?


Vojtěch Sommer is a Czech triathlete who has been sanctioned for using synthetic EPO. The short film above provides a brief introduction to his case and the science issues at play.  You can find extensive documentation about this case here, Sommer's blog, where he has been documenting his case.

The Sommer case is being explored by a group of top Norwegian scientists who are unaffiliated with WADA but are recognized as exceptional scientists. This is the third case involving synthetic EPO that these scientists have raised questions about, the other two being the cases of Erik Tysse and Steven Colvert.

Here in PDF is their evaluation of the Sommer positive doping test. They do not mince words:
We have carefully evaluated the documents that report the tests performed on Vojtěch Sommer's A‐  and  B‐samples  and  also  additional  explanation  from  the  Dreden  laboratory.  We find no scientific evidence in these documents which proves the presence of rEPO in Sommer's urine.. .

The laboratory‘s treatment of the analysis results is superficial, and illustrates again that all too many  WADA  accredited  laboratories  produce  sub‐optimal  work  that  fall short  of  quality  standards  expected of analytical laboratories (see references 1‐8). Such behaviour clearly jeopardizes the rights of athletes and can in some cases best be characterized as abusive . . 
These cases each raise important questions about justice for these athletes, but more generally, they illustrate the pressing need for independent scientific expertise in anti-doping.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Makwala's Involuntary Medical Disqualification



UPDATE: As I completed this post I see that Makwala has been given an extraordinary opportunity by IAAF to compete in the 200m via a time trial (solo) sprint. This story continues to develop. Official IAAF statement here.

The video above shows sprinter Issac Makwala, a sprinter from Botswana and one of the world's fastest runners, being turned away involuntarily from the athlete's yesterday at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.

This post seeks to document what appears to be a gross violation of a athlete's due process rights with profound and irreversible consequences for his career as a professional athlete. I'll update as new information is available and am happy to take comments or critique.

This episode involves an outbreak of norovirus, a high contagious gastrointestinal bug that broke out among athletes and their entourages who were reportedly staying at The Tower Hotel in London (the hotel denies any responsibility). Some 30 people were reportedly affected. Norovirus causes vomiting and diarrhea but is not generally viewed to be serious, with symptoms going away after a few days with no treatment.

On 6 August the IAAF shared advice with athletes and their entourages staying at the hotel (emphases added):
To contain the situation and protect your athletes, we strongly request you
comply with the following directions
:

1. Report to the Guoman Tower Hotel Medical Room (430) as soon as possible any episode of diarrhoea and vomiting. This report should include the name, category of the person and the room number 2. The person must be isolated and hotel staff will assist in allocating another room. 3. Recommendations from Public Health England say the affected person must remain isolated for 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea and therefore, the person will need to take their meals in their room.

The Hotel have applied Public Health England’s recommendations on enhanced cleaning procedures and will support all measures in relation to these matters.

Individuals must be vigilant on personal hygiene and apply the following:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, using soap, hot water and clean towels. 2. Wash your hands before having a meal or a drink. 
There was nothing in the advice about disqualification. In fact, over the weekend athletes diagnosed with Norovirus continued to participate in the events, such as Germany's Neele Eckhardt, shown below.

The advice from Public Health England being referred to by the IAAF can be found here (and highlighted below).
According to reports, over the weekend, Makwala was observed to have thrown up, barfed, puked (though details here are contested as well). On 7 August Makwala was disqualified ("withdrawn" in the IAAF parlance) from the 200m by the IAAF, which stated, "Isaac Makwala (BOT) was withdrawn from the men’s 200m (1st Round) due to a medical condition on the instruction of the IAAF Medical Delegate (Rule 113)."

Rule 133 refers to the IAAF Competition Rules, and it states:
The Medical Delegate shall have ultimate authority on all medical matters.
As Michael Johnson noted, soon thereafter things started getting weird.
Makwala claimed he was perfectly healthy and ready to run. But the IAAF was prohibiting him from participating. That led to the situation shown in the video above where Makwala was forcibly prevented from entering the venue.

According to the official Twitter account of the government of Botswana (yes, this is serious), Makwala represented to officials that his forced withdrawal was a legal matter under UK law.
In its 8 August statement on the situation, the IAAF used language indicating that they were following "UK health regulations":
As per UK health regulations, it was requested that he be quarantined in his room for 48 hours, a period which ends at 14:00hrs tomorrow (9 Aug). 
This statement is -- in measured language -- disingenuous. There are no such UK "heath regulations" related to a "quarantine." In fact, the Public Health England statement released by the IAAF makes absolutely no mention of regulations or quarantine:

In fact, the statement notes that the virus is "rarely serious."

So here is how the situation looks:
  • The IAAF made a decision with profound, career-altering impact on an elite athlete;
  • This decision was made with no apparent due process, very little reliance on evidence and ambiguous criteria for the forced disqualification;
  • The athlete and his medical team reject the diagnosis made by the IAAF;
  •  Even if he was infected, was the DQ necessary? Some experts think not (e.g., here and here);
  • At least one other athlete with the same alleged symptoms was allowed to participate;
  • The IAAF falsely suggested that UK law or regulation triggered the decision. 
At a minimum the IAAF (or some other body) should empanel an independent investigation into this situation, including the decision and the communication associated with it. Clearly things can be much improved.

Finally, below is a lengthy BBC interview with Dr. Pam Venning, head of the IAAF medical services for the World Championships and the authority with the power to disqualify an athlete involuntarily under IAAF Rule 113. (Note: Some people can't see the video, which may be due to your point of access or a geoblock, try this link also.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Errani Doping Case: An Embarassment

Today it was announced that Sara Errani, a top women's tennis player (currently 98th, but has been as high as 5th), has been suspended for 2 months for doping. The case illustrates much about what is wrong with anti-doping and the profound consequences that the failures of anti-doping have on elite athletes.

The ITF announced today:
An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1 of the 2017 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (the "Programme") has found that Sara Errani committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme and, as a consequence, has disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two months, commencing on 3 August 2017.

Ms. Errani, a 29-year-old player from Italy, provided a urine sample on 16 February 2017 as part of an Out-of-Competition test under the Programme. That sample was sent to the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, Canada for analysis, and was found to contain letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor that is included under section S4 (Hormone and Metabolic Modulators) of the 2017 WADA Prohibited List, and therefore is also prohibited under the Programme.
Wow, that sure sounds serious! Another cheating athlete, it seems.

But lets take a closer look. All is not that it seems.

The drug that Errani is suspended for is call letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor meaning that it suppresses aspects of the human hormonal system.  In this case the thinking is that the drug increases the presence of testosterone in the human body, which may aid performance. Here is what the ITF says about the drug in its judgment on Errani (here in PDF):
There has been concern on the part of WADA that some bodybuilders were abusing letrozole and there was some anecdotal evidence online that female bodybuilders used it for that purpose. The substance has been banned for men since 2001 and for everyone since 2005, both in competition and out of competition without a valid TUE. 
Contrary to the thin "anecdotal evidence" cited here, the scientific literature on letrozole and aromatase inhibitors more generally published since 2005 indicates that these drugs do not offer a performance enhancing benefit to women.

For instance, Handlesman (2008) concludes, emphases added:
In summary, there is no convincing evidence that oestrogen blockers cause any consistent, biologically significant increase in blood testosterone concentrations in women. In the absence of direct testing of ergogenic or myotrophic properties, using blood testosterone as a surrogate marker suggests that drug-induced performance enhancement is most unlikely from oestrogen blockade. Nor is there any reason to believe that oestrogens have any other ergogenic effect whether directly on muscle, haemoglobin or indirectly via motivational effects in healthy pre-menopausal women. Finally, as oestrogen blockade for various indications is in wide, regular clinical use and poses no unusual medical risks to female athletes, there is no basis to ban oestrogen blockade in female athletes.
Handlesman (2006) concluded similarly:
In conclusion, there is no convincing evidence that either hCG or estrogen blockers (antiestrogens, SERMs, aromatase inhibitors) cause any consistent or biologically significant increase blood testosterone concentrations in women. In the absence of direct testing of ergogenic or myotrophic properties, blood testosterone is a reasonable surrogate maker, suggesting that drug-induced performance enhancement is most unlikely.

Both classes of agent are in regular clinical use and neither poses sufficient safety risks sufficient to warrant banning in sports on the basis of protecting female athletes safety.

Finally, the adverse privacy implications of hCG testing and the unjustified workload of extra TUEs for estrogen blockers in women suggest that the prohibition of these classes of agents should be restricted to men in whom they are well justified.
The peer-reviewed science is clear enough, but here is where things are a bit strange. The ITF agrees with these conclusions, writing in its Errani judgment (here in PDF), emphasis added:
However there is no evidence that letrozole would enhance the performance of an elite level tennis player. There is no evidence of any significant usage of letrozole amongst athletes in general and none was identified in respect of tennis players.
So we have a drug that no one is taking, that everyone agrees does not have performance-enhancing effects -- a conclusion which is well-supported by scientific research -- and yet 12-year old regulations based on out-dated assumptions are the basis for sanctioning an elite athlete.

Seriously, what are we doing here?

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Review of Bermon and Garnier 2017 (the new IAAF T Study)

Here are some comments on Bermon and Garnier (2017), which is the new study of the effects of testosterone levels of female elite athletes, commissioned by the IAAF in the aftermath of the 2015 CAS decision on Dutee Chand.

The paper is:

Bermon, S., & Garnier, P. Y. (2017). Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female elite athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine. (available here non-paywalled)

These comments are in the form of bullet points, more or less following the flow of the paper:
  • The paper opens by discussing testosterone as something abused by athletes, especially female athletes. This comment seems completely out of place in a paper supposedly about natural testosterone levels (but read on).
  • The paper notes the "virilised phenotype" of "some female athletes." In plain English that means that they have physical characteristics found in stereotypes of men, and not in stereotypes of women. This sort of policing of women's bodies is ever-present in these discussions.
  • It acknowledges the Chand vs IAAF 2015 CAS decision as the motivation for the research, but does not acknowledge the quantitative conclusion of that ruling which indicated that the CAS decision was based on a supposition that T levels in women might account for a ~3% difference in performance but not a ~12% difference common to males vs. females.
  • The analysis looked at female and male athletes participating in the 2011 (female) and 2013 (female and male) IAAF World Championships. 
  • The study, oddly, includes independent results for athletes who participated in both 2011 and 2013 World Championships. It appears that these athletes were thus double-counted. The paper says that it is not an issue, so why do it at all?  It is inelegant at the least and problematic at worst.
  • The study focus on the athlete's single best performance in the competition, not overall performance. It would have been nice to see the sensitivity of the results to this methodological choice.The paper also aggregates all athletes' times into averages, another important methodological choice.
  • So, rather than present the data as a scatter plot (time/distance vs. T), which would allow a sense of variation in any possible relationship, the analysis used "tertiles" (thirds) and compared time/distance of the bottom third (in T) with that of the top third. It is an interesting methodological choice, as it all but eliminates the possibility to see and understand individual variation, e.g., in technical terms, least squares regression vs. Chi-Square test. 
  • The paper appears to include athletes who doped in the analysis of athletes with naturally high T. It thus mixes known doped athletes into the results, without quantifying the impact of this methodological choice. This is remarkable. The paper states:
    • "Among the 1332 female observations, 44 showed an fT concentration >29.4 pmol/L.17 Twenty-four female athletes showed a T concentration >3.08 nmol/L which has been calculated to represent the 99th percentile in a previous normative study in elite female athletes.13 Among these 24 individuals, nine were diagnosed with a condition of hyperandrogenic disorder of sex development (DSD), nine were later found to have been doping, and six athletes were impossible to classify."
  • The paper says that "In male elite athletes, no significant difference in performance was noted when comparing the lowest and the highest fT tertiles." This overall aggregation is not quite accurate. For instance, for the men's 5000m the lowest T third ran 822.96 seconds and the highest third ran 812.89, a difference of more than 10 seconds. Maybe high T men should be excluded from the 5000m? (I jest, but that is the logic at work here.)
  • The paper concludes, accurately, "Our study design cannot provide evidence for causality between androgen levels and athletic performance"-- this is both the nature of statistics, but also a consequence of the methodological issues this paper has.
  • Interestingly (and a side note to the focus of the paper), the paper notes that some of the observed low T numbers among male athletes could represent the results of previous doping, implying that these results are in some way contaminated by doping in a different way than the female results.
  • This is a remarkable admission: "we deliberately decided not to exclude performances achieved by females with biological hyperandrogenism and males with biological hypoandrogenism whatever the cause of their condition (oral contraceptives, polycystic ovaries syndrome, disorder of sex development, doping, overtraining)."  The Chand 2015 CAS ruling applies to women with high natural T, not doping or medical consequences (e.g., possible TUE). The study consequently mixes in some apples and oranges. This alone undercuts this study in the context of the Chand ruling.
  • The paper appears to address Caster Semenya directly when it states: "In female athletes, a high fT concentration appears to confer a 1.8–2.8% competitive advantage in long sprint and 800 m races." Interestingly, despite the paper's methodological issues, this is just about exactly the range postulated in the 2015 Chand CAS decision.
My bottom line: The paper has some significant methodological issues, most notably the inclusion of female athletes who doped with those with naturally high levels of T. There is some double counting of athletes in 2011 and 2013. There is also speculation that the male findings are contaminated by doping. Methodological issues notwithstanding, the paper nonetheless strongly reinforces the 2015 CAS Chand decision. There is nothing here that would provide any empirical basis for revisiting that decision. We might quibble about the methods, but the significance for the CAS decision seems unimpeachable.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Curious and Complex Case of Alex Schwazer


"Do they realise they are part of the plot against AS and the potential consequences for them?"

This statement, by an IAAF official to a to an attorney representing the IAAF refers to an athlete  - Alex Schwazer, AS -- who WADA and IAAF are collaborating together to convict of a doping offense. The "them" that is being referred to here is the WADA laboratory in Cologne. The "plot against AS"?  Well, that is a curious phrasing.

This statement can be found in a tranche of emails involving the Schwazer case released by Fancy Bears earlier this week.

Even before the leaked emails, the Schwazer case has been much discussed as problematic in many respects.  Here I'll list some resources for this case as a starting point for discussion.  The case is complex, involves many personalities, agendas and accusations. It also has a history going back many years, centering on Schwazer's coach, Sandro Donati.

I don't understand all the ins and outs, but I'd sure like to.

What else should I list here?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Guest Post: The "Arnie Effect" vs. The "Tiger Effect" on PGA Purses


This is a guest post by Bill Mallon, former PGA Tour professional and current surgeon and Olympic historian. Find him on Twitter @bambam1729.
------------------------------------

Roger Pielke has written of the “Tiger Effect,” in this case defining it as the increase in purses on the PGA Tour after Tiger’s ascension to the top. Roger and I had emails back and forth on this as I said I thought the “Arnie Effect” may have been just as large in the 1960s, if not bigger.

Frank Beard, leading money winner in 1969, once said that all pro golfers should give Arnold Palmer 25 cents out of every dollar they earned, because he had gotten at least that much for them. A disclaimer here – in the 1970s, I was one of those pro golfers who owed Arnie a part of my winnings, playing from 1975-79, and if you want to know how much purses are different now than then, in 1977 I was 96th on the money list, with just under $24,000 official earnings. In 2016, the 96th player on the PGA Tour money list (Brett Stegmaier) earned $1,086,714. (Note: I am not bitter.)

So, I decided to look at the stats on this to see how much effect Tiger and Arnie had on PGA Tour purses. I chose to look specifically at the 10-year period starting when they first became the leading players on the tour. For Arnie that was 1958, while for Tiger it was 1997.

In the accompanying table [displayed below this post], you can see the PGA Tour total purses and how much they won going back to 1938, the first year that was recorded, as well as the number of events held. Because total purses are dependent on the number of events (take a look at the war year 1943 when there were only 3 events), the next column lists the average purse per event, which is a better statistic to use. Finally, to effectively use the same dollar values, this number is corrected for inflation, listed in the 5th column from the left.

The next column, P/E Adjusted, lists the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation. This is the number we want to compare, but I went a bit further. Because there are some slight yearly deviations, I then created a 5-year rolling average of the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation. Finally, the right-most column is what we are comparing – this is the 10-year increase in Rolling Average of the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation.

The pertinent 10-year periods, the Tiger Era, and the Arnie Era, are marked in bold and highlighted in orange. You will note that during the Tiger Era, from 1997-2007, actual purses/event increased to 284.2%, which is quite good. In fact, the increase was even more than that in 2004-06, reaching 289.6% in 2005. In the Arnie Era, 1958-68, the actual purses/event increased even more, to 325.7%. Further, this increase continued into 1969-71, and topped out in 1970 at 355.3%.

Also of note, there is no other 10-year era that approaches the effect that Arnie and Tiger had on PGA Tour purses. The closest thing to it comes in 1992-95 when the 10-year actual purse increase was up to 218.2%. What could explain this? If anything, this should probably be called the Deane Effect, in honor of Deane Beman, then the PGA Tour Commissioner. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Deane started building Tournament Player courses, popularizing stadium courses, most notably at TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship. He deserves a lot of credit for starting the increase in PGA Tour purses that has continued, led by Tiger’s popularity, into the 21st Century.

So my original suspicion, that Arnold Palmer affected purses even more than Tiger Woods did, was somewhat correct, although the differences between the two eras were not that large – maxes of 325.7% vs. 284.2%. They both had profound, and close to equal effects on PGA Tour purses, but Arnie remains “The King.”


Friday, May 26, 2017

Submission to European Athletics on Rewriting the Record Books


Submission to European Athletics on Word Record Proposals
Roger Pielke, Jr., Professor and Director
Sports Governance Center
University of Colorado Boulder
26 May 2017

European Athletics has proposed a new set of criteria for the validation of world records in the various disciplines of athletics (track and field). A world record will be recognized by European and world officials if and only if it meets the following three criteria:
  1. The performance is achieved at competitions on a list of approved international events where the highest standards of officiating and technical equipment can be guaranteed
  2. The athlete has been subject to an agreed number of doping control tests in the months leading up to the performance
  3. The doping control sample taken after the record is stored and available for re-testing for 10 years.
Because the IAAF began storing blood and urine samples in 2005, many have interpreted the new policy to mean that all records established before 2005 would be erased.

I wish to applaud European Athletics for initiating an important discussion about the credibility of world records in athletics. Here I offer a critique of the proposed new criteria. I argue that an evidence-based understanding of the problem being solved is needed before seeking to implement solutions. In this case, there exists a lack of evidence in support of the efficacy of proposed solutions, most notably evidence to suggest that athletics completions take place on a solid foundation of anti-doping regulation.

So what is the problem to be addressed, anyway?

European Athletics offers three “main reasons” why action is now needed (PDF):
  • To ensure that today’s generation of athletes are not chasing records set in completely different circumstances
  • To restore credibility to the European (and World) records list 
  • To regain public trust 
Let’s take a closer look at these reasons for action one at a time:

1. Difference circumstances

If there is one constant in the circumstances under which elite athletics take place, it is change. There is no stasis – in the rules that govern competition, in the technology used in sport or in the efforts to contravene and enforce the rules.

For instance, the IAAF recently approved new rules governing shoe technology, presumably in response to the new Nike shoes that allegedly provide Nike athletes of today an advantage that other athletes and all past athletes did not have.  The IAAF rulebook is a living document and athletes compete under the rulebook in place when they compete.

The intent of the European Athletics rules changes is no doubt to focus on doping in particular. The science of doping and anti-doping regulation is constantly changing. For instance, athletes who competed in 2005 did so under a Prohibited List with about half the substances on it as compared to athletes who compete in 2017.  WADA’s methodological guidelines for the detection of substances changes over time periods longer than a 10-year statute of limitations – Athletes who competed in 2005 are accountable under scientific detection methods available to 2015, whereas athletes who compete in 2017 are accountable under scientific detection methods available to 2027. The science of anti-doping regulation will advance between 2015 and 2027 (and so too will the science of doping and evading detection).

Elite athletes of different generations will compete under different circumstances. This is unavoidable. Drawing a line in 2005 – or 1990 or 2017 – is arbitrary. Sure, it can be done, but it would not address the concern of athletes competing in different circumstances.

The elephant in the room is a presupposition that records set prior to some arbitrary date are more “credible” than those set afterwards. This is a testable proposition, and the subject of the next section.

2. Restoring credibility

There is no doubt that some records of the past were achieved by athletes who broke rules that prohibited doping or, if rules were not broken, used the assistance of substances that were subsequently banned. Strong circumstantial evidence for this conclusion can be seen in the following graph created by the Financial Times.


If past records were achieved through the use of prohibited substances then the historical record of record-setting suggests that 1989 offers a clear point of demarcation for women’s events, but that no such clear date exists for men.

Another approach to establishing credibility would be to demonstrate with evidence that the prevalence of doping among elite athletes was significantly higher before some date, after which records could be considered less tainted than those which came before. 

Unfortunately, data that would provide evidence for trends in the prevalence of doping among elite athletes has not been collected.  Data that is available from rigorous studies suggest that doping prevalence among elite athletes in recent years in athletics could exceed more than 40% of all athletes (see de Hon et al. 2014 and Ulrich et al, in press).

In the absence of data on doping prevalence, efforts to establish “credibility” risk being seen more as window dressing and public relations, rather than evidence-based, rigorous and trustworthy. Credibility will best come from evidence, not exhortation.

3. Regain public trust

Similarly, it is not clear that public trust has been lost or even if was ever there in the first place. As one study concludes: “Despite the vast amount of literature available on doping in sports, little is known about how the general public actually thinks about doping.”

Further, it is not clear if public trust in the integrity of sport is affected more by evidence that athletes break rules or revelations of scandals among athletic administrators.  As suggested above with respect to doping prevalence, efforts to influence public opinion related to athletics records and, more generally, athletics integrity, will benefit from actual evidence of public opinion, what shapes it and why it matters for sponsors, fans and athletes.

Bottom Line

A decision to reset the record book related to athletics can be justified for any number of reasons. However, if the goal of such a clearing of the slate is to create more of a level playing field for verifying records over time, then the proposed approach by European Athletics remains premature, for reasons argued above.

An alternative approach would be to first address issues of integrity in sport by improving WADA and anti-doping regulation. Central to such improvement is to place anti-doping efforts on a more solid foundation of evidence and science.  In the absence of such improvements to anti-doping regulation, efforts to rewrite the record book will be undercut by the very first, inevitable scandal to occur in the coming years. Doping remains prevalent in sport, and creating a new record book won’t change that fact.

If and when anti-doping regulation is placed on a more solid foundation, then the time might be right to discuss a new era of performance and achievement.  Until then we should let past records stand as an indication that the work of anti-doping reform remains to fully be done.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

IAAF Changes its Shoe Rules (Again) and CAS Awaits a Case

As you might expect, the IAAF has rules in place governing shoes used in athletic competition. In The Edge I explain that one of the first rules for shoes was put in place in the 1950s after a clever Russian high jumper was launching himself off of platform shoes.

The rules governing shoes, and prosthetics used by Paralympians, are under sections 143 and 144 in the IAAF Rulebook.  These rules have changed a lot over the past decade, specifically in 2009, 2010-2011, 2012-2013, 2014-2015, 2016-2017 and now, 2017-2018.

The most recent changes to the rules can be seen in the figure below, screenshotted from the recently released amendments to the 2016-2017 IAAF competition rules.

The new rules are likely introduced in the context of controversy and discussion of a new Nike shoe, designed to provide runners additional assistance. I discussed some of the issues associated with the new shoe technology in The Guardian earlier this month. 

The newly adopted rules changes take a badly-written rule and make things worse.

For instance, the previous version of the rules explained that shoes "must not be constructed so as to give an athlete any unfair additional assistance, including by the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer and unfair advantage." The phrase "additional assistance" refers to additionality over running barefoot. 

The new phrasing "must not be constructed so as to give an athletes any unfair additional assistance, including by the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer any unfair or advantage."

It seems clear that the new language is crafted to eliminate controversy over the new Nike shoe because it removes the notion of "additional assistance"and the specific reference to shoe technology. 

What then is "unfair assistance or advantage"?  It is undefined.

As I argued in The Guardian we can look to Rule 144 governing prosthetics for insight to what "unfair" actually means in an IAAF context. There I explained:
In 2015 the IAAF quietly changed the requirement that it had to show an “advantage” provided by technology in order to ban an athlete. The rule change meant that the burden of proof was now on the athlete to show that the use of technology would “not provide him with an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such an aid” . . .

Thus, if we apply the same standards to Nike’s fancy new shoes that the IAAF applies to prosthetic limbs, then the shoes clearly are illegal under IAAF rules. They provide an overall competitive advantage over athletes not using the shoes. That is both what they were designed to do and also what is indicated by testing by my colleagues here at the University of Colorado. Not all athletes can use the shoes, because not all are sponsored by Nike. For the shoes to be allowed, proof would have to be provided that they do not provide an advantage.
As I concluded in that piece, thus IAAF has one set of standards for Olympians and Paralympians. They are inclusive for Olympians and exclusive for Paralympians. This would seem to be the dictionary definition of discrimination.

The new IAAF are a CAS case waiting to be heard. I expect that it will not be long before an excluded Paralympian takes this up. Watch this space.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Twitter Talk: Scientific Integrity and Anti-Doping Regulation

I have just embarked on an experiment in communication. I have created a "TwitterTalk" of my presentation yesterday at the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters. The talk is titled "Scientific Integrity and Anti-Doping Regulation."

You can see the whole thread starting here.

Comments welcomed as it is a paper in progress.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Oslo Forum on Doping with Independent Experts: 26 April

Doping: science, ethics and law

Location: Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Drammensveien 78, Oslo, Norway
26. April 2017 15:00

Sport has great social importance and popularity, requires large resources and receives much public attention. But the sport's values ​​are challenged by doping. In Norway, processes against Martin Jonsrud Sundby and Therese Johaug have triggered vigorous debates on the relevant issues. Why are these matters so important? Is there a good match between people's sense of justice and what is actually happening in anti-doping matters? What rules are applicable? How should anti-doping work be regulated? Good answers require informed debate based on ethical, scientific and legal expertise.

If you'd like to attend register here.

Program
  • 15.00: Opening by the president of the Academy, Ole M. Sejersted
  • 15.05: Roger Pielke, jr., Univ of Colorado: Scientific Integrity and Anti-Doping Regulation
  • 15.35: Michele Verroken, Sporting Integrity, Ltd.: Does anti doping serve sports and athletes or its own interests?
  • 16:05 Sigmund Loland, Norwegian School of Sports: The Ethical Dilemmas of doping
  • 16.30: Coffee break
  • 17.00: Jens Evald, Universitu of Aarhus: Anti-Doping - The balance between efficiency and the rule of law
  • 17.25: Erik Boye, Oslo University Hospital: Scientific variability and fallibility
  • 17.45: Odd O. Aalen: Statistical aspects: How to evaluate the uncertainty of diagnostic tests
  • 18.00 Discussion & invited comments
  • 19.00 End
Roger Pielke, Jr. has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado since 2001. He is the director of the Sports Governance Center within at the Department of Athletics, having Previously directed the university's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. Pielke is the author of The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics and The Edge: The War Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports.

Michele Verroken is a qualified arbitrator, mediator and adjudicator, a former teacher and lecturer in sports science and physical education. She is the founding director of Sporting Integrity and the Director of Ethics and Anti-Doping at UK Sport, Michele created the UK's Drug Information Database, education programs The, Independent Doping Control Officer training and national anti-doping policy based on ISO-certified standards. Michele has significant experience in anti-doping programs The at national and international level.

Sigmund Loland is professor of sport philosophy and the Rector of the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (2005-2013). He has published extensively within at sports ethics, the ethics of performance-enhancing technologies, epistemology of movement, and the history of ideas in sports. Dr. Loland ice forms President of the International Association of the Philosophy of Sport (2002-03) and the European College of Sport Science (2011-13), and he is member of the Ethics Board of the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA ) (2004-).

Jens Evald is professor of sports law; Head of Sports Law Research Unit, Institute of Law, Aarhus University; Member of the Board of the Institute of Sport (1998-2007); Chairman of the Dispute Resolution Committee, Danish Kayak & Canoe Federation (2000-presented); Vice Chairman Danish Sports Law Association (2001-2005); Chairman of the Board of Anti-Doping Denmark (2006-2012); Member the Political Commission, Danish Football Association (DBU) (2016-2017). He is author and co-author of more than a dozen books and numerous at articles. His work includes books and articles on private law issues, legal history, legal philosophy, biographies and sports law.

Erik Boye is retired professor and department head, Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo. With a background in experimental cell biology and biochemistry he has a long experience with Biochemical analytic techniques. Through the last five years he HAS BEEN Involved in Evaluating the quality of anti-doping analyzes.

Odd O. Aalen is professor of biostatistics in the Medical School at the University of Oslo. He has beenworking on statistical methodology Applied two medical research. He Also has an interest in the statistical aspects of diagnostic testing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Talk at UF on "Sex Testing" in Sport

I gave a talk at the University of Florida earlier today on "sex testing" in international sport. I have attached the slides as a PDF here. The talk comes from The Edge, and is also the subject of a more technical discussion currently in late stages of peer review.

Comments always welcomed!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Foxes in the Henhouse

Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on anti-doping that featured testimony of Olympians Adam Nelson and Michael Phelps. The hearing also included testimony of Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency as well as representatives of the IOC and WADA,

Tygart argued for "a clear separation between those who promote sport and those who police it. To do so otherwise, we believe, is to encourage the fox to guard the henhouse" (PDF). Tygart, and others, are arguing for the IOC, and other organizations of the Olympic Movement, to recuse themselves from the administration of anti-doping regulations in sport. Such a fix, Tygart suggests is "easy."

Tygart is right about the fox in the hen house, but he is wrong about the fix being easy. This post goes into a bit of the institutional history behind IOC's tight grip on WADA to set the stage for discussions of how the fox might be excused from the hen house.

Earlier this week comments by officials at IOC and USOC illustrated the different incentives faced by anti-doping regulators and organizations of the Olympic Movement. For instance, a Russian IOC official commented on Tygart's passionate anti-doping agenda:
"Fighting with an organization responsible for giving future Olympic Games — it’s a big mistake. This gentleman [Tygart] is doing a very counterproductive job with respect to the Los Angeles [2024] bid."
The head of the USOC said of Tygart:
"Travis’s style, I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t having an impact [on the LA 2024 bid]. At the end of the day, he’s doing his job, and he’s doing it really well. Would we like him to be a little bit more of a silver-tongued devil? Yes, we would."
If you are new to the world of sport let me translate all that: These administrators of leading Olympic sports organizations would prefer that USADA tone down its efforts to improve anti-doping regulations and governance around the world. The reason for this is that anti-doping efforts can lead to scandal and a stain on sport and the organizations that govern it. 

These dynamics are not new and can be traced to the origins of WADA in the late 1990s. At that time the IOC was reeling from a bribery scandal of its own making related and the world of sport had just suffered a big black eye due to doping revealing by the so-called Festina affair at the 1998 Tour de France.

Something had to be done.

So in response the IOC moved to create an "Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Agency," Right away many of those interested in anti-doping reforms saw this proposal to be highly problematic. General Barry McCaffery, who was President Bill Clinton's head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy with jurisdiction over matters related to sports doping, testified before the US Senate in 1999 on anti-doping reforms underway under the auspices of the IOC. He stated:
"IOC is rushing forward to build an institution that we cannot support-- one which is more public relations ploy than public policy solution. . . The proposal should have stronger guarantees that the agency  will be independent and operate based on basic principles of good  governance and democracy, such as transparency and no conflicts of interest."
Also testifying that day was Frank Shorter, US Olympian who had won a Gold Medal in the Marathon. He agreed:
"everything  possible should be done to avoid even the hint of a conflict of  interest. This obviously means no IOC control"
So too did Prof. Doriane Lambelet Coleman, of Duke University Law School:
"the reason it is so critical that the IOC and USOC  both externalize and make independent their drug testing operations is that they are neither willing nor capable, as a structural matter, of conceiving and administering a fair and effective drug testing program."
The pressure being put on IOC by the US and Europe meant that they had to give up their desire to own the new anti-doping agency. Instead, they had to settle for partial ownership. 

Richard Pound, a Canadian lawyer and I.O.C. vice president, who is drafting a proposal on the agency to be considered by the conference on Thursday, acknowledged that the I.O.C. has had to scale back its plans to be at the center of the agency. Pound said national governments would have a much larger role than anticipated, a reflection of the widespread skepticism about the I.O.C.'s leadership ability in the wake of the burgeoning bribery scandals involving host cities. . . Pound said it was possible the new agency, if approved, would have as much as 50 percent representation from public authorities, whereas before the conference the I.O.C. had anticipated no more than 20 percent. It was an indication of the increasing inclination of governments to take anti­doping enforcement out of the hands of sports bodies . . .
Ultimately, it was a 50% split in governance responsibility between governments and sports organizations that came to characterize how WADA was run, and that split still exists today. In practice, however, it is fair to question how much of a role governments actually play in the oversight of WADA, Consider that the US government representative to WADA listed on its website today, Michael K. Gottlieb, left the US government in 2015. I do not recall any instance of a government official on the WADA Board speaking for the organization - it s always sports people.

There is nothing in the international treaty on anti-doping that dictates how WADA is to be governed. In practice, to change the composition of the WADA governing committee (its "Foundation Board") requires a super-majority of 2/3 votes of its 38 members. Currently on this committee  there are 19 members from the Olympic Movement including 5 IOC Members, one of whom is the WADA president. To remove the fox from the hen house would thus require many people from sports organizations to vote themselves out of a job at WADA. It is hard to envision how this might happen.

One consequence of the tight grip that the IOC (and its related organizations) have on WADA can sure be seen in how WADA implements sanctions for violations of its Code.  Consider the case of Russian athletes who were part of the institutionalized doping scandal revealed over the past several years. Below is a list of organizations and individuals culpable in the scandal as argued in the four recent WADA reports (by Pound & McLaren).
  • Russian athletes
  • Rusada
  • ROC
  • IAAF
  • WADA
  • IOC
I have highlighted in RED where WADA has jurisdiction to sanction. 

That is right -- WADA has no ability to sanction sports organizations of the Olympic Movement, as the WADA Code focuses almost exclusively on athletes caught doping, not corrupt organizations or people in them. This is why in the lead up to the Rio Olympics last year WADA sought to ban all Russian athletes from the games, but instead IOC delegated the task to each international federation to sort out, leading to ad hoc and arbitrary decisions. 

Similarly, the fact that the IAAF leadership was extorting athletes for money to cover up positive doping tests is not a violation of the WADA Code -- if it were then the IAAF could be found non-compliant, and potentially suspended or otherwise sanctioned as a governing body for Athletics. Imagine that. Does anyone really think that sports organizations would willingly expose themselves to such oversight?

Getting the fox (IOC) out of the hen house (WADA) is thus no easy task. For its part the IOC responded to yesterday's hearing by stating that: "As for WADA’s governance, we hope to make it more independent from both sports organisations and governments."

Yet, it is not clear that IOC really understands what "independent" actually means in the context of governance (a failing not unique to IOC in the world of sports). Consider that IOC also says that it has "appointed independent experts for the WADA governance working group to give independent advice on how best to reform the governance of WADA." These "independent" experts are a lawyer for the IAAF and a CEO of a national sports federation, perhaps great guys but hardly independent of the Olympic Movement or the IOC. 

The notion of getting the foxes out of the hen house this raises some important questions:
  • If the foxes are to leave the hen house who is to replace them?
  • Who are these "independent" people who will oversee WADA?
  • Should all sanctioning be delegated to CAS?  And if so, then shouldn't CAS itself become more independent of the Olympic Movement?
  • Is it time to consider more radical solutions to anti-doping governance, perhaps such as WHO, UNESCO, private sector, etc.?
  • Who watches the watchers? to who are anti-doping regulators to be accountable too?
None of this is easy.  And this is just the governance structure -- I have not mentioned issues associated with the substance of the prohibited list, scientific integrity standards, athlete due process and participation and other important aspects of WADA reform.

Doping is endemic in elite sport. The organizations tasked with regulating doping aren't working. In fact, some sports organizations are working at cross-purposes to anti-doping. There is a lot of work to be done here.

Bibliography


Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport, 2003. (PDF)

Hanstad, D. V., Smith, A., & Waddington, I. (2008). The Establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency A Study of the Management of Organizational Change and Unplanned Outcomes. International review for the sociology of sport, 43:227-249.

International Convention Against Doping in Sport - UNESCO, (PDF) Background document: (PDF)

Lausanne Declaration, 1999. (PDF)

Teetzel, S. (2004, October). The road to WADA. In Seventh International Symposium for Olympic Research, October (pp. 213-24). (PDF)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bloodgate Short


I'm posting this here for future classroom use. It is a Sky Sports Short on "Bloodgate" - some great footage here. (HT Alex)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A List of Elite Athletes Falsely Accused of Doping

There are enough cases of elite athletes falsely accused of doping that I thought I'd start a list. The list below includes cases where the evidence is strongly suggestive, at least, that the athlete was falsely accused by WADA (or other organizations) of having violated the provisions of the WADA Code.

Below I list the athlete, the sport and the drug that the evidence suggests that the athlete was falsely accused of taking. Click on the athletes name for supporting information. I welcome any comments or suggestions to the list.
The consequences to an elite athlete of being falsely accused of doping can be career ending. I will update this list as warranted.