Major advances in the fight against drugs in NZ sport

22 Dec 2015

There have been major advances in the fight against doping in New Zealand sport in 2015, including key innovations in laboratory testing and anti-doping education.  

New Zealand now boasts one of only three laboratories in the world approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency exclusively to analyse blood samples for the Athlete Biological Passport Programme. The passport programme involves the ongoing monitoring and analysis of athlete blood samples for evidence of drug use or suspicious activity.

Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive, Graeme Steel, says the organisation is pleased to be working with Labtests NZ and sees the move as a major step forward. 

“In the past, we had to send samples to Australia, which placed some limitations on our testing programme.  Now we have much greater flexibility in terms of when we collect samples, enhancing our ability to target testing for athletes,” Mr Steel says. 

The advances in testing have been coupled with an increased focus on anti-doping education, particularly for rugby players. 

In 2015, Drug Free Sport NZ worked together with New Zealand Rugby to deliver nearly 40 anti-doping seminars to rugby players.  

This is the largest number of anti-doping seminars ever delivered to one sport in one year in New Zealand.  For the first time, seminars were also provided to under-18 rugby players. 

Mr Steel says Drug Free Sport NZ is acutely aware of the importance of anti-doping education, especially for young players.

“It’s vital that up-and-coming players understand the anti-doping rules and the risks, not only of performance enhancing drugs, but also of sports supplements and prescription medicines when they’re competing at an elite level. 
We’re pleased to be working with New Zealand Rugby to ensure that this knowledge and understanding is passed-on to young players and we’re keen to see it continue into the future,” Mr Steel says. 

Drug Free Sport NZ followed the concerted education campaign in rugby by testing young players at the National Under-19 Rugby Tournament for the first time.

Mr Steel says he’s confident there’s no significant culture of doping in New Zealand sport, but recognises that there’s no room for complacency. 

“This year has seen the international athletics community embroiled in a doping scandal and we recognise that no country and no sport is immune.  Our athletes compete on an international stage and we need to make sure our systems stand up,” Mr Steel says. 

Drug Free Sport NZ took action against seven athletes in the 2014/15 year.  Mr Steel highlights two cases of particular note:
•    A young weightlifter who reported his coach for offering to supply anabolic steroids
•    A weightlifter based in Australia who deliberately gave false and misleading information to avoid being tested. 

Mr Steel says it’s significant that only two of the seven cases taken this year resulted from positive tests.  The remainder were the result of reporting, intelligence and investigation. 

“Testing remains a crucial focus of the anti-doping movement, but there’s now also a strong focus on intelligence and investigation to uncover drug cheats. Athletes and support personnel should be aware of this,” Mr Steel says. 

More information on Drug Free Sport NZ’s work in 2015 can be found in the organisation’s annual report here.