UNESCO's Angela Melo during her speech on the final day of the International Conference "Doping and Public Health". Photo: Stian Schløsser Møller

- A vivid threat challenging public health

Read Angela Melo's speech here.

On the last day of the International Conference in Oslo, June 9, Angela Melo of UNESCO held a compelling speech adressing doping in wider society. Melo is Director of the Ethics, Youth and Sport Division in UNESCO.

Read her speech below. 

Solheim: - I hope this can be a starting point for other countries

Niggli: - It's not just a sports problem

Distinguished invitees,

Dear colleagues,

Dear friends,

I wish to express UNESCO’s gratitude and sincere thanks, especially from the Social and Human Sciences Sector, to the Government of Norway, namely represented by His Excellency, Minister of Health and Care Services, His Excellency, Minister of  in Oslo last week, Culture and Anti-Doping Norway.  I would also like to thank all members present here for the great opportunity this momentum, notably gathering expertise in both hard and social sciences, experiences and skills, represents in the fight against doping as a global issue of public health.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed significant changes when addressing doping in sport. The use of performance-enhancing and methods has long been a high-profile issue in sport but in recent years, it has also become an issue in wider society.  Indeed, body worship, performance, youthism and the attraction of financial rents as long as meaningful social pressure have increased and propelled the demand for doping substances disseminating this so-call ‘’need’’ in our societies. As the brilliant interventions and presentations of all the participants have shown, doping is no longer merely a sport issue but also a vivid threat challenging public health. Concern by protecting the athlete’s health, a public health issue, and the vision of doping as a public health issue has gradually emerged in parallel with the need to ensure fairness, core ethical and sport values, among others, respect for other, achievement by merit, uncertainty of the outcome of the sporting competitions.

The endemic nature of doping has made the corollary challenges to the fight against doping all the more complex and delicate to address and regulate.  Doping issue no longer concerns elite athletes alone, but today extends to amateur sport, even non-competitive sport. This creates other difficulties, concerning for instance fairness of competitions, this impartial and fair achievement through personal merit despite uncertainty of results, but also globally threatens public health.

The dissemination of the representation of young and vigorous bodies in the media, social networks and the pop-culture is a source of inspiration for young and not so young people who shape their eating and sport habits and even develop forms of dismorphophobia and other body dysmorphic disorders according to these social illusions. These issues are a far cry from initial anti-doping objectives and resources and call for a re-examination of action to combat doping as well as the resources for doing so. This latter now seems ill-adapted to combating a widespread phenomenon that goes beyond sports movement and competitions.

This recent change in the perception of doping issues now questions our collective and individual action to respond to them. It requires a multi-disciplinary set of perspectives in order to explore the advocates of this new approach and tailor our common efforts from a social, legal, ethical and political point of view. It was expected, for a long time, that with educational programs, testing, and supportive medical treatment, moral hazard would decrease. Even though such strategy has born fruits, unfortunately, more powerful and quite undetectable substances and doping techniques are daily used while sophisticated underneath networks of distribution have spread.

As a representative of UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector, I will not talk so much here about scientific issues that doping induces about the health of athletes, for they have already been ambitiously elaborated during this international conference. I would rather focus on the political scope of the fight against doping as a public health issue, promoting ethical and sport values.

As part of its mandate to promote ethical values, human dignity and individual rights, UNESCO has responded to the concerns of the international community on anti-ethical behaviors and moral hazard in sport through the elaboration of the International Convention against Doping in Sport. As the eminent Professor Ljungqvist said, and I quote, ‘’UNESCO is a key player in the global fight against doping in having produced an anti-doping convention in record time that enables the UN members to align their legislation with WADA Code’’.

The anti-doping fight and related health challenges were at the heart of the process leading to the adoption of the Convention in 2005. Entered into force in 2007, 185 States Parties have now adopted this Convention harmonizing at both international and national levels anti-doping efforts worldwide through its compliance. Nonetheless, reports show that we cannot be entirely satisfied with this success. We shall persevere and be creative in an area where science, industries, unlimited personal ambition of athletes and coaches are at the root of the woes we are fighting. 

As you may know, the UNESCO Fund for the Elimination of Doping in Sport is the operational hand of the International Convention against Doping in Sport, and is a wonderful instrument to help national and regional stakeholders develop inventive approaches in this field. The Secretariat of the Fund has underlined recent trends that include a focus on nutritional supplements and their use in private gyms. Projects tackling these matters specifically have been implemented in Georgia, Romania and Tunisia.

Because words and abstractions will never replace the didactic scope of a good example, please let me briefly present you a concrete example of good practice. Tunisia’s activities developed under the auspices of the Fund may be considered as a success story. Entitled ‘’Private sports facilities: a new field of action in the fight against doping’’, this initiative has collected information on private gyms in cooperation with Regional Youth and Sports Committees, and has conducted researches in 50 private gyms. Almost 1800 questionnaires were collected and results speak for themselves: 15% declared having used chemical products to practice sport; 45% brought chemical substances in sport shops and 31% in pharmacies, and almost 60% respondents think that doping is merely a mean to develop muscles…

On the ground of this general misinformation on doping, health, doping substances and “innocent” food supplements we might all take sometimes to fight a cold or to boost our resistance in the depths of winter, outreach campaigns, educational and sensitization programs must be enhanced to prevent such behaviors.

Moreover, temptation to yield to this kind of practices cannot be defeated without directly addressing the sales and distribution networks but also the production chains of these substances. UNESCO invite governments and competent authorities to develop close collaboration with private entities such as laboratories and industries producing doping substances. National and international legal frameworks and cooperation must be promoted to regulate both production and sale of these products as well as identification of underneath networks, and more importantly, those developed on the Internet and the dark web. UNESCO may invite Norway to propose this initiative to create an international framework of cooperation or a specialized task force addressing these challenges during the Conference of Parties next September. As you may already know, the Conference of Parties is the sovereign body of the Convention where representative of all States Parties to the Convention shall take part with their right to vote alongside observers such as leading organizations.

Conventional dispositions shall also be used as a benchmark to measure both quality and efficiency of national anti-doping policies. As you may already know, annexed to the Convention, the Prohibited List and the Standards for Granting Therapeutic Use Exemptions are powerful instruments to tackle the anti-doping fight from a public health perspective. However, UNESCO invite States Parties to continue their efforts to ensure a high level of compliance.

International cooperation must be strengthened and an international framework of cooperation between relevant stakeholders from both public and private sectors shall be encouraged. We shall enhance dialogue and collaboration between relevant ministries, including now at least national competent authorities in charge of both Sport and Health and concerned entities such as NADOs and sports movement’s representatives in a complementary bottom-up and top-down approach. We must ensure that implemented anti-doping public policies are developed in inter-ministerial and inter-sectorial collaboration to enrich our strategic approach of doping as a public health issue. Moreover, we must continue our efforts to involve big pharmaceutical companies as a promising step towards strengthened collaboration among all relevant stakeholders in the fight against doping. Indeed, the new topics on the agenda substantively reflect the commitment to addressing new concerns about the likely emergence of new forms of doping such as gene doping.

Even though research has led to these conclusions and helped experts and policy makers formulate first recommendations on this subject, governments shall be encouraged to carry out benchmark epidemiological studies on the effect of doping in sport or on the effectiveness of implemented public policies to adapt permanently our strategies accordingly. Lack of data, particularly on doping practices and the effects of doping on public health, hampers recognition of the doping problem as well as undermining the effectiveness of implemented policies.

It is therefore the role of UNESCO and Norway to deepen the current dynamic. UNESCO wishes to invite Norway and the Scandinavian States to propose also during the next Conference of Parties that will be held at UNESCO in September, to establish a Task Force in order to promote and carry out this work. A timetable and a roadmap shall be envisaged, so that during the next COP in 2019, an activity report on the conducted efforts led by national authorities would be delivered to States Parties. This approach requires as well the mobilization of human and financial resources that may be discussed during next COP under the proposition of any State Party to the Convention.

This international conference could accomplish more tangible results. It shall establish an effective implementation of anti-doping policies elaborated and conducted in order to formalize both pragmatic strategies and optimistic ideals between governments and non-governmental stakeholders. Doping issues are highly political, economic, social and cultural issues affecting the health of all. Beyond a fight against these practices, it is also a struggle for a healthy development of the body and mind, acceptance and self-love. In addition, we all know that serene individuals, in a good mental and physical health, constitute a fertile ground for the development of Peace, Education and Culture.

Thank you for your attention and for this opportunity.

Publisert: 13.06.17

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