Wada chief calls for stricter doping controls at schools level

David Howman was speaking at Sport Ireland’s anti-doping review

Drug testing of amateur and school team sports needs greater attention in global anti-doping campaigns according to David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

For Howman - speaking in Dublin at Sport Ireland’s anti-doping review - the temptation to use performance enhancing drugs is no longer limited to the elite athlete: if anything that temptation is even stronger at the amateur end of the sport, or those younger athletes trying break into the elite.

“I’ve actually been saying that for a number of years,” warns Howman. “Our job is to address doping at elite level. What about the level of those kids who are trying to get a contract, or get into an academy, when they’re still maybe in high school?

“Only that’s the area where there’s no testing. That’s the concern. The elite level testing is not bad, but it varies from country from country, from sport to sport, depending on the commitment and professionalism of those who are trusted with the responsibility.

“And I reflect on rugby and other team sports where those contracts are going to be available at age 18. That’s the level I’m worried about. Because there is more enticement, if you like, by agents, and so on, to those kids, because the agent can see the dollars. How can we address that? We’ve got to get to the level of secondary school or high school principals, because they have the responsibility, not just sport. There’s a whole different raft of issues that could be confronted.

“And they need not do a full programme (of anti-doping). They could do a programme when they test one or two, like, and I don’t know if you have it in Ireland, like job drug testing. And yes, more probably the team sports that provide big money at the end of the day. Such as rugby, soccer, and whatever else is in that country. Like Australian football, rugby league, of the NFL, in the United States.

“It’s not that I’m not more worried about the entry level athletes. But I’m worried about them just as much as the elite athletes.”

Later this summer Howman will step down after 13 years as director general of Wada, in the wake of what has probably been the most difficult 12 months in Wada’s quest to maintain integrity in sport: “I just don’t think, yet, the world wants to address all these issues of integrity in a way which they can be dealt with practically. And we need to do that, if we want to maintain sport at the level that we all appreciate, and love.

“And I don’t think you can isolate or differentiate between individual and team sports. But you have to have commitment from the countries, and the sport. You can’t just expect us to do it.”

According to Sport Ireland's anti-doping review, there were 1,028 anti-doping tests carried out in 2015 (295 of which were blood tests), yielding just three positive samples: Monaghan footballer Thomas Connolly received a two-year ban for the use of anabolic steroids, while in motorsport, driver Gareth Hayden was banned for 15 months for use of a stimulant. The third case, involving a League of Ireland Footballer who tested positive for cocaine, is pending.