AUT Millennium Question and Answer Session

Monday - June 24th 2019

Thanks to everyone who came to our question and answer session at AUT Millennium.  Below is a summary of the questions that were asked.

1. With increasing numbers of athletes transitioning between sports, how does that affect the continuity of testing?

2. How often do you find that doping is more systemic than just silly mistakes? 

3. Is purchasing of a prohibited substance a violation?

4. What testing do you do on Under-18s and secondary school student athletes?

5. Athletics NZ has 20,000 members, but there are thousands more doing Iron Man events or marathons. Does your jurisdiction cover Athletics NZ members?

6. Where are we at on testing recreational athletes?

7. What are you doing to educate lower-level athletes about anti-doping?  

8. I’m concerned that people can go up a level to elite by taking prohibited substances. What are you doing about this?

9. I see that I’m not allowed to be associated with someone who has been sanctioned? How far does this go?

10. We’re concerned other counties may not have the same standards as us

Answers

1. With increasing numbers of athletes transitioning between sports, how does that affect the continuity of testing?

We’re all about protecting clean athletes and promoting clean sport, and it’s pretty clear to us when a high performance Kiwi athlete transfers from one sport to another – they will stay on our radar.  For instance our top three most-tested sports are rugby union, cycling and rowing, and any movement between those sports and the testing programme is likely to be fairly consistent.

If they were to move to a sport that we consider lower risk, like tae kwon do for example, that athlete may notice that DFSNZ’s presence is lower-profile as we’re likely to do less testing in that sport. 

However if that person suddenly starts getting better results in their newly adopted sport, then we might change our approach – such as ensuring they feature on our testing programme.

2. How often do you find that doping is more systemic than just silly mistakes? 

A normal pattern in New Zealand is for six to eight anti-doping rule violations in a year. In the past most of those have been people who have made a mistake, rather than purposefully cheating.  We have some empathy for these athletes who through either ignorance or error have made a mistake and are now facing a ban from all sport.  We much prefer to catch deliberate dopers rather than people making mistakes.

For example, an athlete may have visited a doctor and received a prescription for an asthma medication that contains a substance that is prohibited in sport.  If that athlete had said to his doctor that he/she is an athlete and subject to testing, the doctor could prescribe a different medication, which is permitted in sport. Athletes need to be having that conscious conversation with their doctors about their medication. 

Cases involving deliberate dopers in New Zealand are relatively rare.  We believe this is because New Zealand athletes are predominantly clean and come from a sporting culture that has high integrity.

In recent times we have seen a large number of kiwis purchasing prohibited substances from online vendors.  This is a real challenge for us, both in investigating it but also in educating as many people as we can at all levels that purchasing substances online is a significant threat, both to your participation in sport and also your health.

3. Is purchasing of a prohibited substance a violation?

Yes. An anti-doping rule violation includes purchasing, using or attempting to use, possessing, trafficking, covering up or tampering with or evading the doping control process.  You can also violate the rules by associating with someone such as a coach or a medical professional who is serving a ban for an anti-doping rule violation. 

4. What testing do you do on Under-18s and secondary school student athletes?

For some sports, their high-performance athletes are under 18 and therefore need the same education and testing programmes as any other high-performance athletes.  Two medal winners at the last Winter Olympic games who were only 16!

However, for most young athletes our primary focus is on education – we want to protect them and help them make good decisions early in their sporting careers. When we are dealing with younger athletes in doping control, we want to make sure that we consider their needs whilst still maintaining the integrity of the testing process. We will notify athletes aged under-18 of their rights and responsibilities, and will endeavour to so whilst in the presence of an adult. We encourage young athletes to have an adult representative with them throughout the testing process. Our policy for testing under-18s is on our website.

For Top Four Secondary Schools’ Rugby, we’ve worked with Secondary School Sport NZ and other organisations to implement an extensive education programme, backed up by limited testing. Our aim here is to educate and equip our outstanding school level rugby players to be ready for where ever they go next.

5. Athletics NZ has 20,000 members, but there are thousands more doing Iron Man events or marathons. Does your jurisdiction cover Athletics NZ members?

Yes, if an athlete is a member of Athletics NZ, then they are covered by the NZ Sports Anti-Doping Rules.  For a non-member there are also events which are sanctioned by Athletics New Zealand, and those sanctioned events also come under the sports anti-doping rules.

However, we don’t have jurisdiction over other non-sanctioned events, such as Round the Bays. 

Ideally we’d like to work with event organisers to provide information to competitors in support of clean sport – such as having an anti-doping policy on their website or in the registration pack.  We think that clean sport is better for everybody, and we’d like to have a positive influence in retaining our clean sport culture in NZ. 

6. Where are we at on testing recreational athletes?

DFSNZ doesn’t have any intention to start testing lower level athletes – however if we are presented with evidence of an anti-doping rule violation, we are obliged to investigate. 

We believe that turning a blind eye to doping in sport – at any level - is not going to end well.  Our work is aimed at protecting the integrity of competition, or the “spirit of sport”, and protecting the health of our sports people. If you want to see an example of when this goes badly wrong, look no further than the low-level British athlete who died in his bed after taking clenbuterol and other substances.

It may sound tough from one perspective but how happy would you be to compete against someone taking steroids, even at a local club level for instance?  Could it stop people taking part?  Might it stop kids being encouraged to take part? 

But don’t forget this doesn’t mean we’ll be testing participants at all levels of sport.  Our testing programme is focussed on the higher levels of sport and those tracking towards that level. Although, if we become aware of information that suggests that there is a problem within a sport at any level, then we are obliged to investigate. Modern anti-doping is increasingly about intelligence and investigations, not just positive tests. 

7. What are you doing to educate lower-level athletes about anti-doping?  

We work in partnership with national sports organisations to reach as many people as we can.  We provide free workshops, e-learning programmes and detailed information on our website, and can offer advice over the phone on 0800 DRUG FREE (378 437).

8. I’m concerned that people can go up a level to elite by taking prohibited substances. What are you doing about this?

While we don’t think it is a significant problem in NZ, we share that concern.

We recognise that athletes can feel pressured to get stronger and heavier, or faster – and that this pressure can lead them to consider taking substances to get to the next level. We always want to hear any concerns people might have about an issue or individual.  When we receive reports of suspicions, we take them seriously and look at what, if any, action it might be appropriate for us to take.

9. I see that I’m not allowed to be associated with someone who has been sanctioned? How far does this go?

That is correct – if you are an athlete then you are not allowed to associate with someone serving a ban in a sporting capacity.  In the same way, they are not allowed to associate with you until their ban has finished.

There have been cases in the past where people have tried to keep their involvement quiet when it’s been in breach of their ban – for example, a coach who was secretly coaching while banned.  In that case, DFSNZ sent letters to that coach’s athletes letting them know that associating with the coach was an anti-doping rule violation, and if they persisted they could risk a ban themselves. 

10. We’re concerned other counties may not have the same standards as us

There’s a group of countries who apply the rules fairly and consistently, and another group of countries who struggle.  Part of Nick’s job as DFSNZ Chief Executive is to advocate for our clean Kiwi athletes and make sure that other athletes are held to the same high standards – and to pressure those countries who are lagging to comply.