Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Sport Integrity Australia Amendment (World Anti-Doping Code Review) Bill 2020

10 December, 2020


I rise to speak on the Sport Integrity Australia Amendment (World Anti-Doping Code Review) Bill 2020. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Sport Integrity Australia Act 2020 by expanding the operation and provisions to include those nonparticipants in sport, to amend the definition of an athlete and other amendments.

I can't start and get into the technicalities of the bill without acknowledging my personal experience with this. It is one of those lucky days where I can combine so many areas of my life, my passions and the amazing opportunities that I've had. I first competed at the Winter Olympics when I was 17. I think that was my first experience, from an international sport, with the amount of codes and the amount of legislation, but also the testing and the need for sport to be clean. In those days, 1992, we hadn't yet really come to terms with how broad and how big a problem doping had become in sports, especially around the Olympic sports and those kinds of things. It was really interesting over the course of my career, from, in 1994, having to do a gender test to prove my gender to be permitted to compete as a female at the Winter Olympics, to then having to undertake a number of doping tests. I'm probably one of the very few in this chamber, I would say, that has had to undertake a doping test. These are so important. It is important that the international community have come together with this legislation, with the wider code, to ensure that we have clean sport.

If you speak to athletes about what it is that drives them to participate in sport, it is that passion about doing your best, about seeing what your limits are and seeing if you can go past them. It's about really trying to excel in something that you love doing. One thing I think that a lot of athletes have in common is that we tend to like a clean playing field. People want to know that you're going to win or lose fair and square. You want to know that there are rules of play, that there's a procedure by which you can win, or succeed, and that it is an even playing field so it truly is a test of your ability, your talent, your determination and your skill.

There is an incredibly disappointing experience where doubt enters sport, where the results and those heroic outcomes get tainted by the allegations. When they are made out to be true the outcomes are sullied. When allegations of cheating are made out to be true it is such a disappointing moment for sport because we know that those who missed out on the opportunity to be on the podium, because a drug cheat was there at the time, will never get that moment back. You can rectify the record years down the track, when science and technology has caught up, but you can never give the athlete back the moment that's been lost, that opportunity to stand on the podium, to hear the anthem, to watch your flag go up on the post.

It's really important that governments and sporting codes work as hard as possible to keep sport as clean as possible. Sadly—maybe human nature—there is always that desire to cut corners and find ways to cheat. But it is encouraging when internationally we come together to put solutions on the table.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, was established in 1999. It's an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sport movement and governments of the world. So it was widely recognised that everyone needed to come together for that. Its purpose is to research, educate and develop antidoping capacities and to monitor the World Anti-Doping Code. Of course, there's no point having a code if it's not monitored and applied, and that's where it gets tricky. The agency was founded by the International Olympic Committee with the declaration of Lausanne in response to the growing pressure stemming from doping episodes, including the allegations and systemic doping around the 1998 Tour de France cycling season. I remember those days well, '98 being a big year in my sporting career, but also 1999. I saw that shift, as an athlete competing; we were regularly drug tested and had to engage with that process.

WADA has been a consistent positive force in sports. Its influence culminated in the banning of countries from competing in international events and levelling the playing field in various sports. The World Anti-Doping Code, which WADA monitors, harmonises antidoping policies, rules and regulations within sports organisations and among public authorities around the world. It works in conjunction with six international standards which aim to foster consistency among antidoping organisations in various areas. What's important is that the WADA code is up for review on a regular basis, because we know we have to keep up to date with developments and the latest technology. Sadly, the cheats tend to always be a step ahead of the movement and the authorities trying to catch them.

In January 2003, the first code was approved in Copenhagen during the second World Conference on Doping in Sport. Approximately 700 sports organisations have accepted the code. Signatories include sporting organisations that belong to the Olympic movement, national antidoping organisations and national and international sporting federations outside the Olympic movement. The purpose of the World Anti-Doping Code and the antidoping program are clearly to protect the athletes' fundamental right to participate in a clean and doping-free sport; promote health, fairness and equality for athletes worldwide; and ensure harmonised, co-ordinated and effective antidoping programs at international and national levels with regard to the prevention of doping. Australia is a signatory of the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport. Under this convention we've agreed to implement the code. So I very much support the code and the international efforts to fight doping.

We have to have ongoing efforts to protect Australian sport, but we also always need to be conscientious. We've often been the first to accuse others but find excuses for our own. We have to be consistent in making sure that we want clean sport everywhere. It is an ongoing process, and threats evolve over time. No system is ever perfect. I was incredibly privileged to be a member of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, ASADA, and the ASADA Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel for several years. It was incredibly rewarding as a past athlete to have the opportunity to be on the administrative side of trying to reconcile applying the code and the rules and hearing how the athletes were dealing with the code and any transgressions.

In December 2017, WADA initiated a two-year three-phase code review progress, which involved extensive stakeholder consultation regarding the code, the international standards and the Athletes' Anti-Doping Rights Act. The stakeholders identified 51 significant changes between the current code and the 2021 version. Some of the changes are substantial and very important. The code has been amended to reflect an increased emphasis on the importance of athlete health and to provide a better statement of ethical foundation. Under article 2.11, the new antidoping rule violation of threatening another person to discourage that person from good-faith reporting to authorities is important, because it's often through anonymous tip-offs that we start to investigate cheating behaviour.

We need WADA accredited laboratories to have the ability to detect the minuscule quantities of prohibited substances in athletes' samples, and that has increased exponentially. Timing is everything with a lot of these substances, and more often than not it is the out-of-competition testing that is vital, because it's when people are in their preparation phase for big events that you are more likely to catch them if they're using banned substances. That ability to detect the tail end of prohibited substances is very important, because that alleviates a bit of the pressure on timing. It also raises the question of whether more people will be caught inadvertently. There is an incredible onus on athletes that they bear responsibility to be aware of everything that enters their body, which is an incredibly high bar and a high amount of responsibility on them, especially on junior athletes.

When I was on the ASADA Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, one of the most frequent occurrences we had was people getting caught out by their supplements. These are supplements that are, for example, coming in from overseas; they have ingredients not automatically labelled up front, but if you search them on the internet it becomes clear that some of the ingredients in the substances are banned. It was disappointing to see how often that was the problem for the people who were getting caught.

A key theme of the review is proportionality, where WADA aims to ensure the code targets the right stakeholders and applies consequences that are proportionate to an individual's culpability. This is where it gets really difficult, because, invariably, most athletes who are caught will have the defence that they didn't mean to do it or it was an accident. I don't think I've ever seen any athletes really come clean and take responsibility. But we do need to be able to differentiate between an athlete who has genuinely been caught out by a supplement or by ingesting a banned substance completely inadvertently and unknowingly and an athlete who is attempting to make up a story or hide.

We've had some pretty amazing cases of this from around the world. I was very privileged to go to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018 as an arbitrator. I sat on the court of arbitration for sport; in fact, I sat on the appeals in relation to whether Russian athletes would be permitted to compete at those Olympic Games. That was a case where it was incredibly systemic. We saw 298 athletes investigated; 200 were caught doping, and 47 Olympic medals were stripped. There were real concerns over their systemic approach to doping, and that continues today. We still have issues of compliance with RUSADA when it comes to the code and true independent testing occurring.

What is also important about this bill is it extends the code to applying to relevant nonparticipants to be subject to the National Anti-Doping scheme. That's important, because what we find in the course of investigations is that there are a number of parties involved over the process of how athletes come to be in possession of banned substances, and we need to make sure that all of those responsible are caught and dealt with. It may be medical practitioners providing it; it might be pharmacists. We have to look at who is accessing these substances.

The Sport Integrity Australia CEO now has discretion not to publish details of an antidoping rule violation when it's a recreational drug or if the athlete does haven't the mental capacity to understand the rules. We have to be clear that consequences of an adverse analytical finding are severe. Athletes are judged, and the damage to reputation is irretrievable more often than not, so we have to be very cautious in how the information becomes public. The code is the foundation of antidoping efforts internationally, so it's very important that governments and national sporting organisations get behind it and keep on improving it.

The most important message I can put out there, though, is for the athletes. You need to stay informed. Under the code, you have to log your whereabouts at all times. You need to be aware of all the ingredients of any over-the-counter supplements. It's very important for all of you to go to the Sport Integrity Australia website and make sure you are aware of your obligations and everything.

Lastly, whilst the fight against antidoping and cheating in sport is incredibly important, we can't ignore the other issues sport faces. Up there with doping, is the risk and threat of gambling impacting on the outcomes of sport and organised crime in association with gambling having a huge impact on the integrity of sport. I would urge the government to do more in combating that and in making sure that we have strong legislation to deal with any gambling and those consequences when it comes to sport. Sport should be about encouraging people to do their best and inspiring others to really perform and give 110 per cent. It's incredibly rewarding, but we need to keep it clean.