The scientific activities of the Doping Authority consist of the following:
- an ongoing review of the scientific literature to identify documents relevant to doping;
- conducting and initiating research that serves the purposes of the national and international anti-doping policy; and
- the dissemination of scientific doping expertise both inside and outside the organisation.
Traditionally, the scientific activities are considered to include the “nutritional supplements and doping” project.
Monitoring scientific literature
To ensure it is informed about the latest developments, the Doping Authority keeps a close eye on new publications of doping-related scientific literature and saves copies of the relevant articles in its archives. Just over 100 relevant articles were added to these archives in 2015. All the articles are available in digital format and the most important are posted on the website www.doping.nl.
The information from the available literature is being actively distributed and serves as a basis for internal advice for the Enforcement & Investigation and Prevention departments, the legal officer (in the context of specific doping cases) and the CEO (for, among other things, his contacts with the press). This information is also used to answer specific scientific questions from people outside the organisation such as doctors, lawyers, journalists, students and other interested parties.
Efficacy of anti-doping policy
December 2010 saw the start of a doctorate project entitled 'The efficacy of anti-doping policy'. The research focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to this wide-ranging field, looking in particular at the areas of prevention, investigation and sanctions, and how these have been brought together in the current anti-doping approach at the international level and in the Netherlands. The doctorate supervisor is Professor Maarten van Bottenburg, the professor of sports development at Utrecht University. The main article for this thesis, about the actual determination of the prevalence of doping among elite athletes, was published in 2015 in the journal Sports Medicine. It generated considerable interest and was even discussed in letters published in the leading journal 'Nature'. The doctorate itself is expected to be completed in 2016.
Endocrinologist Pim de Ronde has set up a polyclinic in the Spaarne hospital in Haarlem (the former Kennemer Gasthuis) targeting people with health problems caused by anabolic steroids. The Doping Authority has an advisory role. Work began in 2015 on the fulfilment of a long-held ambition: a longitudinal study in which 100 users of (among other things) anabolic steroids will be studied during and after their course of steroids. The study, which is known as the HAARLEM study (health risks of anabolic androgen steroid use by male amateur athletes), is primarily funded by private sources from the Spaarne hospital and it is expected to last one year.
Elite sports survey
The Doping Authority has conducted a periodical survey of the opinions of Dutch elite athletes about the doping policy since 1993. There was a new survey in 2015 using a subsidy from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The traditional policy review was extended on this occasion to include some questions that made it possible to estimate the prevalence of doping using the 'Randomised Response' technique that provides additional anonymity and is therefore expected to produce very reliable results. The result was an estimate that 4.2% of Dutch elite athletes deliberately engage in doping. There was considerable media interest in this result, which was discussed separately at the National Doping Summit in April during a dedicated session for the performance managers of NOC*NSF and at the annual press conference. The study was conducted in collaboration with TNS NIPO and Utrecht University (Department of Social Sciences).
Two supplement studies
Additional funding from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport was used to conduct two studies looking at the doping risks of supplements. The first focused on the NZVT, which has now been in place for more than twelve years (see elsewhere in this annual report). An evaluation was made of the availability of the supplements tested for doping and on the analytical background. It led to an internal report and some specific recommendations for strengthening the NZVT looking to the future.
A second study looked at the more high-risk aspects of the supplements market. A selection was made of 66 high-risk supplements (for hormone regulation, muscle strengthening, weight loss/fat burning, or increasing energy), which were then analysed. The products were purchased through Dutch web shops and 25 (38%) tested positive for prohibited substances, even though these substances were not listed on the label. This represents a genuine doping risk for athletes, emphasising once again that athletes who qualify for doping controls should be extremely cautious about using supplements. The concentrations found in three products were so high that the Dutch Food and Commodities Authority immediately withdrew them from the market. The findings of this study will be used in our information activities for both elite athletes and fitness athletes.
There is a working party for exchanging experiences with seven other scientific members of staff working for the national anti-doping organisations of Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and New Zealand. There are periodical telephone meetings about ongoing studies and specific scientific doping issues. There were five meetings in 2014. The chair revolves at each meeting.
The Doping Authority has been approached to act as an adviser to the sub2hrs project. This is a scientific project in which marathon runners will receive support in their efforts to run a world record of less than two hours (see www.sub2hrs.com). The driving force behind this project is the Greek/British researcher Yannis Pitsiladis. He has presented an overall structure for the doping control programme for the participating athletes based on the recommendations of the Doping Authority at medical-scientific congresses in Antwerp (Belgium) and Doha (Qatar).
Together with representatives of the VSG, NOC*NSF and the KNWU, the Doping Authority participated on the Supervisory Committee to draw up new guidelines for doctors with regard to sports medicine, including doping-related issues. The completely revised guidelines were approved in November by the members of the VSG.
We participated in discussions about fake medical products at two meetings arranged by the Medicines and Medical Technology directorate of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. In a number of separate meetings, we also provided input for the discussion about the possibility of establishing a reporting centre for health problems caused by the use of fake medicines. Doping products are always prominent in this category and a reporting centre of this kind would be one way of implementing the recommendations of the Health Council's report on doping from 2010.
Different groups attending the meetings discussed the possible ways of collecting background information about doping users in existing questionnaires. During the course of 2015, the doping-related questions were adopted that will be included from 2017 onwards in a more in-depth module of the 'lifestyle monitor', a nationwide survey. The importance of this development also emerged at the meetings organised by the RIVM and the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) about the Future Reconnaissance Studies for Sports. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, NOC*NSF, Statistics Netherlands and the Trimbos Institute are also playing an important role here.
We acted as reviewers on several occasions for doping-related articles submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals: twice for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, twice for Drug Testing and Analysis, twice for Substance Abuse Treatment Prevention and Policy, twice for the Journal of Sports Sciences and once for the Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies.
We also supervised and made assessments of several students who looked in depth at doping topics as part of their studies. The emphasis was on health-related and forensic training.
The Doping Authority visited five scientific conferences: Exercise Metabolism (July, in Amsterdam), Evaluating the unintended effects of anti-doping (August, in Aarhus, Denmark), the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) Seminar (September, Copenhagen), the 14th USADA Symposium on Anti-Doping Science -Designing an Effective Deterrence Program (October, in Leesburg, America) and the Annual Scientific Sports Medicine Congress of the Association for Sports Medicine (November, Eindhoven). This combination of conferences demonstrates the diversity of the scientific work of the Doping Authority.
A total of 198 certificates were issued in 2015 (350 product-batch combinations). This is the highest number ever, a sign that the Dutch Dietary Supplements system (NZVT) is still catering to a significant need of athletes and their support staff. At the same time, two batches were rejected this year because prohibited substances were found, a strong signal that the NZVT is still needed. The system was established in 2003 and, as evidenced by the numbers of positive doping controls that can still be blamed on 'contaminated' dietary supplements, a testing system of this kind continues to be necessary. In total, on 31 December 2015, there were 645 product-batch combinations on the NZVT website (antidoping.nl/nzvt) representing 230 products, 37 brands and 17 substantive categories.
The Doping Authority also acts as an adviser to a comparable initiative from the British company HFL (see www.informed-sport.com). Both systems have acknowledged one another as 'athlete-friendly' testing systems that give the maximum possible assurance that nutritional supplements are doping-free.