UNESCO declares war on doping

At its plenary session in Paris on Wednesday, the General Conference of UNESCO unanimously passed a treaty to combat drugs in sport. Officially named the "International Convention against Doping in Sport" (ICDS), the accord seeks to unify anti-doping efforts across all sports and UNESCO member states. However, for it to take effect, at least 30 UN member governments need to sign it, and even then, they would be the only countries bound by it. UNESCO hopes that it will be in effect before the next Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy in early 2006.

"This is the first time a legal instrument aimed at eradicating doping is both binding and universal," said UNESCO in a statement. "A global response to a global problem, such is the challenge put to the new Convention. It supplies governments with a legal framework for an international harmonization of efforts in the fight against a scourge that flouts the ethical and social values of sport while putting the health of athletes at risk."

The UNESCO statement also addressed the problem of doping in amateur sport and even among the general fitness crowd: "According to a European Commission study in 2002, nearly 6% of all clients of fitness centres in several European countries admitted to taking doping agents to enhance their performance. A survey by the University of Quebec discovered the same year that 26% of amateur athletes questioned had used substances banned by the Olympic Committee at least once in the last 12 months."

The ICDS hopes to "go beyond testing and sanctions. It incites States Parties to 'undertake, within their means, to support, devise or implement education and training programs on anti-doping' in order to raise public awareness of the negative effects of doping on health and on the ethical values of sport, as well as provide information on the rights and responsibilities of athletes and on testing procedures. Signatories will also promote 'active participation by athletes and athlete support personnel in all facets of the anti-doping.'"

The ICDS goes hand in hand with the World Anti-Doping Agency's World Anti-Doping Code, which was adopted in 2003. Signatories to the Convention will also be bound by the WADA code, but would also have a say in the approval of new lists of prohibited substances and methods.

Another part of the ICDS will "facilitate the timely movement of duly authorised doping control teams across borders when conducting doping control activities. They also commit to promote cooperation between testing laboratories and to 'mutually recognise the doping control procedures and test results management, including the sport sanctions thereof, of any anti-doping organisation that are consistent with the Code.'"

WADA has welcomed the adoption of the Convention with open arms. "The adoption of the Convention by UNESCO is a strong signal of the commitment of the governments of the world to the fight against doping in sport," said David Howman, WADA's Director General. "The drafting of this Convention in just two years was a world record for international treaties. We warmly commend and thank UNESCO for facilitating the process, and we look forward to the treaty coming into force and the ratification by each government before the opening day of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin."

WADA further noted that, "Until now, many governments could not be legally bound by a non-governmental document such as the World Anti-Doping Code, the document harmonizing regulations regarding anti-doping in all sports and all countries of the world. Governments have accordingly, pursuant to the Code and with the assistance of WADA, drafted this International Convention under the auspices of UNESCO, the United Nations body responsible for education, science and culture."

Currently, 181 countries have signed the WADA's Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport (2003), and more than 570 sports organizations have already adopted the WADA Code.

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