Since 1998 anti-doping policy has undergone massive change. The level of world-wide cooperation involved in establishing an international anti-doping system is unprecedented in the history of the regulation of performance enhancing substances in sport. Such cooperation and the unipartite nature of public doping discourse give the impression that anti-doping policy is clear, unproblematic and universally acceptable. However, scratching the harmonious surface of modern anti-doping approaches reveals fundamental problems and inconsistencies, the two most basic of which go to the very core of the policy. Basic issues — what constitutes doping and the reasons why we prohibit it — are still unsettled, lack clarity and give rise to many significant operational issues. For instance, the definition of ‘doping’ in doping discourse is quite different from the definition in the World Anti-Doping Code: what is thought of as ‘doping’ is very different from what is punished as ‘doping.’ Moreover, the commonly suggested anti-doping rationales do not adequately explain the present prohibition on the use of performance enhancing substances in sport.
In light of this uncertainty, two questions arise: why is there so much confusion and why do we prohibit doping in sport? Desmond Manderson, in his study of the origins of illicit drug laws, has wrestled with a similar question; his conclusions are that drugs have been prohibited more for what they symbolise than their pharmacological properties. This thesis argues that, in a similar way to illicit drug policy, the symbolism of performance enhancing substances in sport has played a major role in the development of anti-doping policy. To demonstrate the influence of such symbolism, three significant time periods in anti-doping history are considered in the thesis: the 1920s, the 1960s and the 1970s.
The most formative aspect of symbolism in the 1920s, when anti-doping rules were first passed, was the association between doping and illicit drug taking. The stigma attached to stereotypical images of illicit drug-users contributed to ‘doping’ being viewed as contrary to the amateur ethos and the adoption of a regulatory system modelled on illicit drug policy approaches.
In the 1960s, when anti-doping policy began in earnest, illicit drug symbolism was also extremely influential. Concerns regarding drug addiction in sport fuelled fears about the health of the athlete which were prominent in doping discourse at this time. Combined with a strong belief in the power of drugs in general, illicit drug symbolism led to the expansion of the illicit drug model of regulation to include illicit drug style testing.
Doping changed in the 1970s with the emergence of training drugs such as anabolic steroids. Steroids became strongly associated with ‘communist’ athletes and were viewed as extremely powerful transforming drugs. A kind of steroid hysteria was thereby created in doping discourse. Simultaneously, the continuing influence of illicit drug symbolism meant that the previously adopted illicit drug model was also applied to steroids.
The conclusion of the thesis is that anti-doping policy is not fundamentally a rational system: instead it has been driven much more by emotional factors such as public opinion than rational argument. Such a basis is bound to create confusion and explains many of the problems of current anti-doping policy. The way in which symbolism has led to the regulatory decisions in anti-doping history is summarised as constituting the ‘reactive regulation model’ in the concluding section of the thesis. This pattern of regulation has produced a number of important operational difficulties in current anti-doping law, the prime example being the ‘fallacy’ of in-competition drug testing to deal with the issue of training drugs such as steroids.
Finally, it is argued that in light of the reactive nature of anti-doping policy, it is unlikely that recent challenges, such as gene doping and the use of non-analytical evidence, will be treated any differently to past challenges. Anti-doping policy has always been largely driven by reactions to symbolism; there is no reason to suspect this type of approach will change.