WADA director hails governments joining fight against doping

PARIS -- The director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency is hopeful the fight against drug cheats will gain ground now that over 100 countries have signed a United Nations treaty.

WADA's David Howman said Wednesday that 102 countries have ratified the UNESCO Convention on Doping in Sport since it went into effect nearly two years ago. It means anti-doping measures become part of national law in the countries that have ratified the agreement.

"This is setting the standards very high. To the world governments that have shown much strength in fighting the scourge of doping, thank you from WADA," Howman said Wednesday. "We've reached 100, in fact we're starting to get over 100."

At the end of February, with the number at 77, WADA president John Fahey had urged for more cooperation. Speaking at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris after a ceremony to mark the 100 signatures, he said "we're not there yet.

"We still have a long way to go," he added, "[Doping] is too easy in many countries because there are not strong enough laws," Howman said. "Let's enhance the fight through legislation."

UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura called reaching 100 "an important step in the world fight against doping in sport" and said "the accent has been put on a dedication against doping, in both the scientific and the medical domain."

Adopted in Paris on Oct. 19, 2005 by the UNESCO General Conference, the convention originally required 30 governments to sign up for it to work, but by July, 2006, only 14 countries had signed it.

"Let's not forget on these hard fights to stop and smell the roses," Howman said. "This is a chance to celebrate. It's a significant world record. Let's look forward to the next 90."

Ratifying the convention helps a member nation prevent cross-border trafficking of sporting drugs, support a national drug-testing program and withhold funding from athletes caught cheating.

But WADA does not have the legal authority to force an increase in the amount of testing, and relies on governments to pressure their national anti-doping agencies to do so.

The United States became the 94th country to ratify the agreement on Aug. 25. The 100th was Paraguay on Oct. 13 and the most recent was Uganda on Oct. 27.

"There is a change in the perception of doping and WADA has played a very important role," Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky said. "They have added the opinion of the governments to the sports movement, and for us that is the most important action in the fight against doping."

Fahey took over as WADA president from Dick Pound on Jan. 1 and said cracking down on doping was a serious matter of public health for governments, citing one British study showing boys as young as 12 using anabolic steroids.