The support of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is being sought in the fight against the use of illicit drugs in sport and its world-famous ISO 9000 quality management standard is at the heart of a government-sponsored initiative to achieve drug-free sport.

The national standards institutes which make up ISO are currently voting on whether to accept the International Standard for Doping Control in sport as an ISO/PAS (Publicly Available Specification), as the first stage to becoming a fully fledged ISO standard.

The doping control standard has been developed by the International Anti-Doping Arrangement (IADA), an agreement currently signed by the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. IADA believes that adoption of its standard by ISO will significantly increase worldwide acceptance by governments, sports organizations and athletes.

"Drug-free sport can only be a reality through coordinated and collective action by all players at the international level," says IADA in an article describing the programme in ISO's monthly magazine, ISO Bulletin.

The authors of the article, John Mendoza, General Manager Sports Services with the Australian Sports Drug Agency, and Rune Andersen, Head of Ethics and Doping Control with the Norwegian Olympic Committee, say that doping has become "a global challenge to the continuing value and integrity of sport". They add: "Public confidence in sport, and the ability of sports administrators to respond effectively to the problem, is now at a low point."

The fight to eradicate the misuse of drugs is hampered by a lack of standardized procedures and processes, resulting in the frequent overturning by sports tribunals or civil courts of positive drug tests. In addition to the possibility that offenders may thus avoid sanctions, "clean" (drug-free) sportsmen and sportswomen suffer the results of a lack of standardization.

"One has to appreciate the experience that athletes and their support staff endure as they travel the world and compete and undergo urine sample collections and drug tests," say Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Andersen. "Athletes are constantly subjected to different procedures, different equipment, and different processes for hearings, sanctions and appeals. In short, there are no uniform standards operating in the sports doping environment.

"All too often, athletes and their legal representatives, when given a positive drug result (known as an analytical positive), find substantial problems with the procedures for conducting the collection of the sample, insecure or faulty sample collection equipment, breakdowns in the handling, transport and chain-of-custody from the point of collection of the sample to the laboratory, and fundamental principles of law being ignored or given inadequate due in the hearings and appeals processes conducted within the sport."

The IADA Standard for Doping Control has been developed to put an end to this confusion. The standard itself is the main element in the "IADA Quality Concept" which presents a comprehensive approach for managing and improving the quality of anti-drug programmes. By setting policies and standards for carrying out the doping control process and for ensuring that the procedures used in different organizations and in different countries are in compliance with these policies and standards, IADA aims to achieve high-quality, harmonized doping control practices worldwide.

Within the concept, a key role is played by ISO 9002. The IADA Quality Concept includes the use of a quality management system conforming to ISO 9002 for application to the doping control process at the national and organizational levels.

"By applying ISO 9002 in combination with the doping control standards, one can ensure that an independent, certified quality management system is operating," the IADA representatives explain. "Quality policies, manuals, documentation and records will be evident, thus improving the transparency and accountability of the doping control process in that jurisdiction or organization. And a system for continuous improvement will be in operation to ensure the system takes account of developments in the field."

Currently, all the signatories to the IADA are implementing the Quality Concept in their respective national programmes. In addition, another eight countries/organizations are involved in implementing the Quality Concept within their national systems: Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States. Many of these implementation programmes are being undertaken by the national Olympic committees which have responsibility for doping control in that country. Several other countries and international sports federations are considering commencing implementation.

Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Andersen conclude: "The development of the Quality Concept via the `fast-track' methodology as an ISO standard will further harmonization significantly."

The International Standard for Doping Control in sport is being processed in the first instance as an ISO/PAS, rather than as a fully fledged International Standard, because it represents a new area of activity for ISO, although sampling, test methods and requirements for accreditation of laboratories are subjects covered in ISO standards and guideline documents. ISO members are being asked to vote on whether to accept the IADA standard as an ISO/PAS, with any comment to be sent to IADA to redevelop the document for possible "fast-track processing" into a full International Standard.