Anti-doping system 'unsustainable'

Leading experts have branded the current approach to drugs in sport unsustainable.

Social scientists from more than 10 universities made the statement on conclusion of a two-day meeting at Victoria University on Friday, where they assessed current drug control programs and reviewed the operations of key governing, testing and enforcement bodies in the wake of the Australian Crime Commission report.

Victoria University drugs-in-sport expert and event co-convenor Associate Professor Bob Stewart said while views differed on several points there was agreement around several key areas.

"There was agreement that anti-doping on its current path is both economically and socially unsustainable," he said. "To increase testing to a level where it is actually reliable would involve huge increases in cost while having adverse effects such as pushing the drug culture further underground."

He said pushing the culture underground would only encourage further innovations in making drugs harder to detect, which could potentially lead to health risks.

"This war-on-drugs approach also blocks avenues of honest disclosure for athletes who might need to seek help and support, but fear being outcasts so suffer in silence," he said.

Event co-convenor from University of New South Wales Canberra Dr Jason Mazanov said the group also identified a need to examine the institutional structures contributing to athlete doping and the culture of hyper-performance and 'doing whatever it takes' rather than focussing on individual 'bad eggs'.

"This needs to be recognised as an issue of sports management as much as anything else," he said. "Why are we not talking about including controls in the contracts of team managers, high performance trainers and players?"

There were also calls for more buy-in from the sports management and sports science industries to look at a professional approach to accreditation for those overseeing the systems where doping was happening.

"Australia is at the critical period in how it understands and responds to the issue of drugs in sport," Associate Professor Stewart said.

"With our current trajectory and with the recent ASADA amendment allowing the CEO of ASADA to compel anyone to give evidence, we risk sinking huge sums of money into a system that jeopardises people's rights while not achieving much at all, just like Richard Nixon's ill-fated war on drugs in the United State nearly five decades ago."

Associate Professor Bob Stewart is a research associate with Victoria University's Institute for Sport, Exercise Science and Active Living.

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