CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates says current worldwide drug testing is “ineffective” and wants to shift the burden of proof on to athletes if they refuse to cooperate with doping investigations.
Coates was appearing Friday at a Senate hearing which is considering expanding the role of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority beyond drug testing to include investigative and other powers.
“There is a case for us to acknowledge that the testing that WADA prescribes, and that is carried out in this country and around the world, is ineffective at catching drug cheats,” Coates said. “But WADA isn’t in a position to tell you what to legislate.”
WADA President John Fahey told The Associated Press on Friday that because he had not seen Coates make the remarks, or had not seen an official transcript, he’d prefer not to make any official comment.
“I’d like to see the nature of the evidence as a whole, and the context,” Fahey said.
Last month, an Australian Crime Commission investigation found the use of performance enhancing drugs in the country was widespread, with some athletes being given substances not yet approved for human use.
The Australian government’s new legislation to boost ASADA’s powers would force athletes to cooperate with any investigation. Under the changes, athletes who refuse would face fines of up to US$5,000.
Coates said there should be a threat of jail and criminal prosecution for those who don’t cooperate, with the burden of proof shifted onto the athletes if they do not assist investigations.
“(The bill) is a very big improvement as drafted with the civil penalties, but I certainly think there’s a case for having criminal penalties,” Coates said.
The AOC recently began requiring all athletes selected on Olympic teams to provide statutory declarations detailing any doping history they may have.
While the AOC support tougher measures, athletes and lawyers are fighting the proposed laws.
Australian Athletes’ Alliance general secretary Brendan Schwab said there were several major problems with introducing a law which would force athletes to sign statutory declarations, as WADA was reviewing its own code.
“The proposed WADA code will completely exonerate (someone who tests positive) who provides substantial assistance up to the requirements of the code from any penalty, because they understand how important that is,” he said.
“The requirement to sign a statutory declaration of course could run counter to that process.”
Senator Richard Di Natale said the proposed process would reverse the onus of proof on finding an athlete guilty.
“What you are proposing is that we introduce a law that can drag an athlete off the street and put them into a star chamber and force them to answer questions?” Senator Di Natale asked.
Another senator, George Brandis, questioned the need to strengthen laws that were going beyond WADA recommendations.
“If we are already a world leader … under our existing arrangements, compliant with all our international obligations, and we are not being asked by WADA to do this, why are we doing it?”