WADA: We'll discuss 'whereabouts' rule

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The World Anti-Doping Agency has invited athletes' groups for a meeting to defend the "whereabouts" rule for out-of-competition drug testing, a statute that has drawn increasing criticism and a court challenge.

Tennis star Rafael Nadal became the most outspoken critic of the system this week, insisting that the new rule amounted to harassment. In Belgium, 65 athletes filed a court challenge.

Under the latest WADA code, athletes must specify one hour each day when and where they can be located for testing. Athletes must also tell anti-doping authorities where they will be over a three-month span, which they can update by e-mail or phone message on short notice.

WADA director general David Howman said athletes should study the rule themselves. If that is not sufficient, "give me a call or come to one of the meetings. Find out something more before you open your mouth," Howman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday from Montreal.

Howman sent invitations Wednesday to several groups representing thousands of elite competitors to discuss the new rule, which went into effect this year.

"There are things that need to be learned. We appreciate that," he added. "But make sure you learn all the information before you criticize it."

Howman said the new system should make life easier on athletes rather than subjecting them to round-the-clock doping supervision, a perspective not shared by some athletes.

"To have to send a message or be concerned all day long if there is a last-minute change seems to me to be totally excessive," Nadal said in a New York Times report.

The Belgian athletes claim the rule is an invasion of privacy.

Howman said that throughout the rule-making process, WADA took special care not to make the measures excessive.

"We took legal advice to make sure that all the provisions were obeying the laws of proportionality," he said.

Howman insisted, however, that efficient out-of-competition testing is a cornerstone of anti-doping controls. Short-notice tests are essential, he said, because many illegal substances can become untraceable within 24 hours. To perform such tests, WADA needs to know at all times where and when athletes can be located.

Under the rule, three missed tests or three warnings for failing to file whereabouts information within an 18-month period constitute a doping violation and can lead to sanctions.

Some athletes have complained they cannot do everyday tasks, like go to the movies or unexpectedly go out for breakfast, without giving proper warning. Howman insists everything is possible with a certain amount of planning.

"The system is far more flexible than they lead to believe," Howman said. If athletes do not take time or effort to apply anti-doping rules, "they are not being responsible either to their sport or to the other players they are competing with."

The Belgians and Nadal complained that sports with a perceived minimal history of doping were targeted as much as those where doping has become common.

"I would not want to say that any sport has been untouched by doping," Howman said.