Celebrating a Crusader

First published in SportBusiness Magazine December 2011

As SportBusiness International this month identifies and celebrates the 20 men and women whose innovation have shaped the sports industry in 2011, I want to recognise one of the most influential and yet least talked about names in world sport.

Professor Arne Ljungqvistt’s past lives as a champion high-jumper, doctor, and professor of pathology have made him one of the world’s foremost experts on performance-enhancing drugs, and the tests to detect them.

After 40 years of work, he is as responsible as anyone for what world sport and, in particular, cycling and the Olympic Movement has achieved in identifying, testing, and ostracising the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. As the current vice-president of WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) and chairman of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Medical Commission, he’s the most influential voice in defining the line between legitimate training techniques and illegal performance enhancement.

Over the past decade-and-a-half governing bodies have finally begun to win the battle against illegal drug-users and clean-up their sports, a change that was as much the result of a change in the attitudes of governing bodies as it was enhanced testing techniques.

Previously illegal drug users had been chastised but implicitly tolerated for the sake of record-chasers or an enhanced spectacle, but now testing regimes and penalties are harsh enough to make doping a risk not only to an athlete’s health but also their reputation.

Last month Dick Pound, the former president of WADA, continued to deliver what has been a more forthright tone from WADA over the past decade, calling on sponsors to play a more active role in eliminating doping. The use of judicious anti-corruption provisions by team sponsors has been one of the key elements in cycling’s revival and WADA provides the ideal supervisory body for sponsors to use as a benchmark for rights-holder performance, across all sports.

Much of the success in taking on doping has been driven by WADA’s willingness to take on governing bodies, highlighting where testing is inadequate and creating clear guidelines for what best practice looks like. The combination of legal and financial pressure, through sponsors, has been the catalyst for these positive changes. WADA was given the budget and the mandate to allow people like Professor Ljungqvist to lead their crusade. It’s a shame that no comparable body yet exists to handle corruption.

David Powell
Associate Director, Redmandarin