David Owen

As regular readers probably know, I am sceptical about sport’s ability to bring doping by top-level athletes under anything resembling control.

Equally, the spectre of a complete pharmaceutical free-for-all is, in some respects, so disturbing that I would concede we need to be certain we have exhausted all avenues before we all, to borrow a phrase used last week by Independent Commission chair Richard Pound, “go home”.

Top of any list of changes that simply have to be made if the present regime is to become more effective is a substantial - and permanent - injection of funds.

How might this be achieved?

To answer this question, one needs first to have some understanding of the structural problem that has resulted in the chronic funding shortage experienced by the main cogs in the anti-doping machinery that has been established over the past two decades.

The principal such cog is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which oversaw creation of the World Anti-Doping Code which governs the activity, attempting to impose common standards across sports and countries.

Government buy-in was clearly indispensable for such an apparatus to be put in place.

It was agreed accordingly that WADA would be composed and funded equally by, on the one hand, the sports movement and, on the other, by Governments.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has done well at getting its message heard but struggles year-on-year for sufficient funding from Governments, whose budgets are already stretched
The World Anti-Doping Agency has done well at getting its message heard but struggles year-on-year for sufficient funding from Governments, whose budgets are already stretched ©WADA

While it was politically unavoidable, however, this structure has been disastrous financially.

Why? Because Governments, completely understandably, always have something more important than the fight against doping to spend their money on.

And maintenance of the 50:50 structure has meant that, if Governments don’t want to increase their WADA contributions, the sports movement cannot either.

This structural flaw was highlighted after International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach announced in December 2013 that the IOC would invest $10 million (£6.6 million/€9 million) in a new fund for innovative, athlete-centred anti-doping research, while calling on Governments to match this amount.

In the event, the Governments of the world contrived to scratch together commitments totalling less than $6.5 million (£4.3 million/€6 million), restricting the value of the embryonic fund to some $13 million. (The IOC has indicated that the residual $3.5 million (£2.3 million/€3.25) of its contribution will be used for research that will complement that of WADA.)

Also symptomatic of the problem is that Montreal-based WADA - whose annual income is around $30 million (£20 million/€28 million) - has reported a deficit each year between 2010 and 2014.

The cumulative total of these deficits is more than $3 million (£2 million/€2.8 million).

One indication of how tight a ship the agency is attempting to run is that, for a second year running in 2015, Executive Committee and Foundation Board members have been meeting their own air travel costs in attending WADA meetings.

They gather again on Tuesday and Wednesday (November 17 and 18) in Colorado Springs for what has become a critical meeting.

I have yet to find a way of establishing the overall financial situation of the various National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs).

However, since Governments will be the main source of funding for most of them, although lottery money and fee-based services also I think play a part, I strongly suspect they will be enduring a similar squeeze.

Nor are most International Sport Federations (IFs) so awash with cash that they can easily afford to fund effective anti-doping programmes, even though many of them will now come under pressure to do more.

In political terms, Government support for the sometimes draconian measures necessary to combat doping at all effectively is more vital than ever, not least because intelligence- rather than science-based detective work has come to play an increasingly important role in recent years.

But it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a way of decoupling the issue of control of the main anti-doping institutions from the issue of funding them.

In short, a way needs to be found of enabling significant sums to be pumped into WADA and whatever new investigatory bodies might need to be set up in order to improve effectiveness without disturbing the 50:50 Government/sport balance that has prevailed until now.

Once this has been done, where might the new influx of cash come from?

It seems to me there are two options.

One is sponsorship: international drugs companies have enough need to polish their public image that you would think that an option to sponsor some element of the anti-doping machinery would be of interest to many of them.

Some, though, are uneasy about linking the anti-doping effort in this way to a stratagem by one or more multinational companies to increase their sales and profits.

It is also hard to imagine sponsorship alone raising enough money to have a real impact on the number of athletes doping.

The amount broadcasters are prepared to spend on television rights for sports events has increased dramatically in recent years and is now estimated to be more than $20 billion a year
The amount broadcasters are prepared to spend on television rights for sports events has increased dramatically in recent years and is now estimated to be more than $20 billion a year ©Getty Images

The other option is a levy on broadcasting rights.

The value of certain sports content - particularly football - has gone through the roof in recent years.

It could be argued that the sports in question have been lucky enough to benefit from evolutions in the media landscape that have little if anything to do with them, rather like London homeowners have benefited from property spikes they could not have anticipated.

Reserving a small portion of this windfall for a cause that could touch just about every sport might in this way be portrayed as a legitimate, even a desirable course of action – though I doubt recipients of the biggest rights fees would see it that way.

What is clear is that the sums in question are big enough to transform utterly the anti-doping game - if utilised effectively.

A few internet searches and some back-of-envelope arithmetic indicate to me that the annual value of sports broadcasting rights is well in excess of $20 billion (£13 billion/€18.5 billion).

Channel just one percent of this to the anti-doping drive and you put more than $200 million (£131 million/€186 million), equivalent to seven or eight times WADA’s current annual income, at its disposal.

The main objection to such an approach, I imagine, would be the lack of any correlation between the most drug-addled sports and those, in effect, contributing the most to the new kitty.

These would be football, the value of whose broadcasting rights I recently heard SportBusiness Group’s Frank Dunne, an expert, estimate at $14.8 billion (£9.7 billion/€13.7 billion), and the sports represented in the big US professional leagues.

So some would think the mechanism unfair.

To construct an oversight function extensive enough to, in effect, enforce honesty among everyone a) with a vested interest in any given athlete’s performance and b) in the sample collection and analysis team, and to set up experienced analysis and investigatory units in the many corners of the world where the anti-doping regime is at present inadequate would, however, be a very expensive business.

And that is the minimum that a truly rigorous system would be likely to require, at least in the early days, along with leading-edge scientific research.

It still might not work, in my opinion.

But most will not want to give up the fight, or accept that battle-lines should be redrawn around the most noxious compounds and practices, without at least seeing if a properly-resourced policing effort can make real headway in addressing the doping problem.