The proposal to prepare an international convention against doping in sport is on the agenda of UNESCO’s General Conference. If the proposition is adopted, this standard-setting instrument - the first of its kind to be intergovernmental, universal and legally binding - should be finalized before the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin (Italy).
“Doping threatens to kill sport as surely as it kills athletes” sums up the message of the Ministerial Round Table held at UNESCO last January. On that occasion, representatives from 103 countries asked the Organization to coordinate the preparation and adoption of an international convention against doping in sport, in cooperation with the competent agencies of the UN system, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the Intergovernmental Consultative Group on Anti-Doping in Sport. At the invitation of UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, 15 experts, representatives of several countries and international sport organizations, met at UNESCO Headquarters on June 24 and 25. They studied the feasibility of elaborating such a new standard-setting instrument and the modalities for doing so.
If the General Conference approves the project, the group of experts will prepare a preliminary draft of the convention to be presented at an intergovernmental meeting that the Director-General will convene in early 2004, as well as at the Fourth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS IV) to be held in Athens in August 2004. The final report and the draft convention will then be submitted to the 33rd session of UNESCO’s General Conference in October 2005.
Doping – resorting to potentially health-endangering products or methods in order to artificially enhance an athlete’s physical capacities – is as old as competitive sport itself. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), evidence of doping can be found as early as 300 B.C., when competitors in the Olympic Games of Antiquity were willing to take performance enhancing substances like mushroom and plant extracts. Closer to our time, Thomas Hicks won the 1904 Olympic marathon in Saint Louis (US) thanks to raw eggs, injections of strychnine, and brandy.
The first prohibitions against doping appeared in the 1920s, but for lack of adequate controls they long remained ineffective. A number of scandals, including the deaths of cyclists Knud Enemark Jensen (Olympic Games, Rome 1960) and Tom Simpson (Tour de France 1967) or Eric de Vlaeminck’s internment in a psychiatric hospital (1975), and the increasing frequency of accidents involving amateur athletes, incited international sports federations to increase testing and reinforce the fight against the plague of doping.
In 1978 UNESCO adopted the International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, which stresses “the protection of ethical and moral values” and the safeguarding of physical education and sport against “any abuse,” such as “violence, doping, and commercial excesses.” The same year, the Organization established an Intergovernmental Committee on Physical Education and Sport whose mission is “to promote international cooperation” in the field of physical education and sport with a view to strengthening peace, friendship, understanding and mutual respect between peoples.”
In 1984, the Council of Europe adopted the European Anti-Doping Charter for Sport, recommending that Member States and national sports institutions establish anti-doping rules, educational programmes and laboratories for testing and research. Beginning in 1988, a year particularly marked by doping incidents (involving, for example, Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympic Games and Pedro Delgado in the Tour de France), the sports world and public authorities became more active. In September, the First Permanent World Anti-Doping Conference (Ottawa, Canada) resulted in the elaboration of the International Olympic Charter against Doping in Sport. The following year, the Council of Europe adopted its Anti-Doping Convention, which is also open to the signatures of non-Member States and has so far been ratified by 40 countries. In 1992 the Council of the European Communities adopted the Code of Conduct against Doping in Sport, which is an information and education document aimed at alerting those in the world of sport to their individual responsibilities regarding the problem of doping.
With the exception of the last two texts, the existing standard-setting instruments focus on repression and testing to combat doping, which are of limited effectiveness according to the experts. That is why the recommendation on doping and violence in sport adopted by the Third International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS III), held in Punta del Este (Uruguay) in 1999, stresses the role of education and information in this domain. The same year, the World Anti-Doping Agency was founded, with the principal mission of promoting and coordinating the battle against doping on an international scale. Last March in Copenhagen it adopted an World Anti-Doping Code, which is the first instrument to harmonize the rules concerning doping in all sports and all countries. So far 81 governments have signed the Copenhagen Declaration, by which they pledge to apply the Code.
WADA’s mixed composition, however, as a private Swiss foundation (half intergovernmental and half consisting of volunteer sports organizations) cannot give the Code a legally binding status; in the same way, the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code was created by a non-governmental organization whose rules apply only to Olympic disciplines. Other national, regional or international texts concerning the fight against doping also lack the universal, intergovernmental and legally binding scope. Hence the necessity, according to the experts, for an international convention against doping in sport, on which UNESCO’s General Conference will decide in the days to come.
“More than a punitive instrument, this convention should emphasize the importance of public information and education – especially for young people - on the physical and ethical risks of using dope in sport,” says Koïchiro Matsuura, for whom “doping is one of the greatest dangers menacing, perverting and discrediting sport, which remains, for most people an irreplaceable source of self-improvement, and a fine school of good human relationships.”
During its 32nd session, UNESCO’s General Conference will also decide on the proclamation of an International Year for Physical Education and Sport.