Organised crime

An intelligence led approach to anti-doping part II : The scope for human intelligence in intelligence-led anti-doping

May 18, 2018

Rachel Brown




Under the Article 5.8 of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) are obliged to “Obtain, assess and process anti-doping intelligence from all available sources”, including human sources. People involved with sport, both directly and indirectly, are in an ideal position to provide access to sport-specific issues and the tight-knit networks characteristic of sport. Human intelligence is more context specific than other intelligence sources and therefore promotes an understanding of the range of, and relationships between, individuals, substances and methods in doping. Insider knowledge is of proven use in gaining access to steroid marketplaces, which are notoriously difficult for NADOs to keep up-to-date with. Equally, many doping methods (as opposed to substances) lack a trafficking and distribution system and instead rely on using regular, legal medical equipment. This includes blood doping, gene doping and hyperbolic oxygen chambers. As a result, human sources are often best placed to provide information on the use of these doping methods which lack a traditional supply chain.


Human-source intelligence has the potential to provide invaluable support to intelligence-led anti-doping. This article will consider the role of and challenges to the use of human-source intelligence in intelligence-led anti-doping and the scope for a more aggressive human-source intelligence approach.


Current/preferred human-source strategy: Whistleblowing hotlines


Whistleblowing platforms have become an integral component of the intelligence-led approach to anti-doping. NADOs have invested heavily in establishing hotlines and websites to encourage the sporting community to blow the whistle on suspected doping in sport. For instance, UK Anti-Doping’s “Speak Out!” campaign was launched in 2010 in collaboration with Crimestoppers. This represents a form of crowdsourced intelligence, or a public request for information which is then collected and collated. The National Intelligence Model used by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) recognises “community information” as a useful source of intelligence, allowing human-intelligence from whistleblowing to be effectively incorporated into UKAD’s intelligence framework.


There is some evidence of a propensity among athletes to blow the whistle on suspected doping. The case brought against Lance Armstrong by the US Anti-Doping Agency rested significantly on 24 witness statements from his former teammates, support personnel and other professional cyclists. However, the case came over a decade too late and was only able to result in a reactive and punitive response, rather than the proactive and preventive approach intelligence-led anti-doping should provide. Studies conducted on the psychology of blowing the whistle on doping have found that the decision is not a binary one. Instead it includes a number of options, including confronting the doper personally; raising the suspicion with someone not connected with the anti-doping authorities; reporting the user to an anti-doping authority; or doing nothing. Consequently, just as in a national security context, the motivations of whistleblowers must be explored in order to improve campaigns aiming to promote and encourage whistleblowing if it is to be a valuable component of the intelligence-led approach to anti-doping.


Challenges to blowing the whistle on doping in sport


Comprehensive educational campaigns which raise awareness of whistleblowing platforms are crucial to support human-source intelligence-led anti-doping. However, despite the launch of the aforementioned “Speak Out!” initiative in 2010, campaigns promoting it have only gathered momentum since 2016, especially at a student and amateur level. The proven correlation between the intensity of educational initiatives and the use of whistleblowing hotlines demonstrates the need for sustained and consistent promotion of the availability of mechanisms to report suspicions of doping in sport.


Furthermore, despite an awareness among athletes of the expectation to report suspected doping, there is an overwhelming reluctance towards it. Loyalty to teammates often prevails as athletes are more likely to confront the suspected doper themselves. On the one hand, there is a case for NADOs and sports governing bodies to place stronger obligations upon athletes to report suspected doping to offset the reluctance towards it. Equally, whistleblowing must be de-stigmatised and safeguards introduced to protect whistleblowers from the retribution of teammates and coaches. Consistent and more effective education strategies must empower and equip athletes to blow the whistle. These strategies should rest on an understanding of the complex relationships involved in high-performance sport. They should learn from the best (and worst!) practice of campaigns such as the Government’s Prevent strategy which encourages the reporting of criminal or dangerous behaviour, including that of close friends and family. The lack of commitment to these educational campaigns, coupled with the reluctance among athletes to blow the whistle on doping, represents a major limitation to the contribution whistleblowing can make as an effective, human-source component of a proactive, intelligence-led approach to anti-doping.


A more aggressive human-source intelligence approach?


Arguably, there is scope for a more aggressive human-source intelligence approach in anti-doping. This includes the penetration of suspected sports teams, training and medical facilities to actively and covertly elicit information relevant to the intelligence requirement. NADOs could learn from investigative journalism, where successes include uncovering steroid marketplaces by posing as customers and exposing an international athletics team manager accepting a bribe to provide prior warning of a visit by the anti-doping authorities. However, the well-established problems of transparency and accountability pose a significant challenge to this approach. Without a transformation of political will, NADOs are unlikely to be able to demonstrate necessity and proportionality to justify a warrant. Nevertheless, this is an area in which effective collaboration with law enforcement, who possess greater powers of invasion of privacy, can be beneficial to an intelligence-led anti-doping regime.


Increasing the powers of sports governing bodies will also enhance the contribution of human-source intelligence. Athletes can be compelled to enter into contracts which confer investigatory powers on their governing body. The Australian Football League have adopted this approach and have powers superior to those of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, which include “access to: players and officials for interviews, mobile phone records of players and officials, emails, team servers, laptops and team files including financial records”. This is an attractive strategy, given the sport-specific expertise of sports federations and the fact their budgets often exceed that of NADOs.


Furthermore, infringement upon privacy is a recognised and accepted element of participating in elite sport. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Whereabouts system requires athletes to provide advance details of their location for a 60-minute window every day of the year for out-of-competition testing. This demonstrates the capacity for sports federations and NADOs pursue a more aggressive approach to human-intelligence despite the infringement upon privacy. This will allow human intelligence to make a more effective contribution to intelligence-led anti-doping and protect and promote the right of athletes to participate in clean sport.




As it stands, anti-doping is not realising the full potential of the support human intelligence can provide to its intelligence-led approach. The majority of human-source intelligence strategy surrounds whistleblowing hotlines. However, lack of proper commitment to initiatives which equip and empower athletes to blow the whistle on suspected doping has meant these hotlines are unable to provide a sufficient or effective contribution to intelligence-led anti-doping. In order for anti-doping to make full use of human intelligence, they must pursue a more aggressive approach which includes actively and covertly eliciting information relevant to the intelligence requirement. Whilst this approach will incur questions on accountability, transparency and the right to privacy, these are worthwhile discussions to develop and encourage creative solutions. Consequently, despite current inadequacies, there remains a positive outlook for human intelligence in anti-doping with plenty of capacity for it to provide a useful and valuable contribution to the fight to protect the rights of athletes to participate in clean sport.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grey Dynamics LTD.

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