Development of Targeted EU Policy: Doping in Sport


This blog post is the first  in a series of posts that come from students of our 3rd year undergraduate “Politics and Policy Making in the EU” course. As part of the course, students were asked to write about an issue pertaining to EU politics. The best blog posts have been selected to provide an opportunity to exceptional young scholars at UCD to contribute to the debate on the future of the EU, and to promote the insightful scholarship being undertaken at UCD to a wider public audience. 

The use of performance enhancing drugs has been endemic in a number of amateur and professional sports for decades and in recent years the methods of doping have become more sophisticated and the concealment of use, more effective. The illegality of many of the drugs being used, the damaging effects to individual health and the impact on the competitiveness and integrity of sport has forced the EU to become involved in the prevention of use and the education of athletes.

Since its inception in 1989, the Council of Europe Anti-Doping Convention has spearheaded the efforts of institutions of the European Union, in conjunction with international actors, to rid sport of doping in the member states and beyond. The Council of Europe (CE) in particular has played a pivotal role in the short history of the anti-doping debate since its policy beginnings in the 1960s. When examining the development of anti-doping policy and the role of the CE therein, it is advantageous to do so within a policy network framework and the development of targeted EU policy-making. This approach recognises the diversity and resource capabilities of the actors involved, many of whom share the same concerns but simultaneously have diverging, conflicting interests. (Houlihan, 1999)

In order to understand the development of the role of the Council of Europe in this policy area it is important to recognise that as the issue rose to international prominence from the 1960s onwards, initial efforts to tackle the problem were disconnected, domestic and in some cases ‘cosmetic’.(Houlihan, 1999) Individual sporting federations and governments made efforts to standardise definitions of doping, create banned substances lists and set penalties within their own jurisdictions. These bodies did not, in most cases, have the resources to devote to sweeping programs of testing or policy development, thus efforts remained insular and small-scale. That remained the case until, the CE stepped in in the late 1960s, prompted by a series of refusals by cyclists to be tested at the World Road Race Championships. Safeguarding the reputation and integrity of sport was at the time, and still is today, part of a wider European policy priority. Sport is avidly promoted for the health and well-being of European citizens, but perhaps more notably sport has been identified as a key element of the ‘spillover effect’ between policy areas, in the Europeanisation process and as a tool in the creation of European identity.(Gregg, 1972)

The Council rose to a real position of prominence in the doping debate in 1978, when it formulated a Recommendation focused on policy co-ordination between the numerous federations, particularly in the areas of athlete education and development of testing techniques. Eight years later the Recommendation was reworked and became the European Anti-Doping Charter. The charter once again was comprised mainly of suggestions and policy leads for member state governments and federations but it signalled the start of a co-ordinated approach encompassing the varying capabilities and responsibilities of actors. The Charter moved the focus away from internal questions of principles to matters of resource management in the areas of testing and policing. (Houlihan, 1997) In 1989, having built upon the progress made with the Charter, the Council of Europe Anti-Doping Convention became the basis for legal, financial and regulatory efforts in relation to doping. (Council of Europe, 1989) The Convention was a concrete evidence of the progress made on anti-doping and was a resounding recognition of the need for a defined international level of coordination in the area. The Convention was widely ratified within the EU and beyond, displaying a willingness of signatories to adopt financial, technical, educational measures and implement them across borders. Throughout the 1990s and up to the present day the aim of the Convention has been primarily to bring about this kind of policy harmonization. Given the success of the Convention it was clear from the ’90s onwards that the CE would be the leading player in providing direction and a forum for continued policy development.

The Convention has been strengthened by a number of measures and revisions over the past number of years. In 2004, the Convention was backed up by ‘a binding control system’ to ensure mutual ‘recognition of existing controls and reinforcing the implementation of the Convention’ by member state and governing bodies for sport. (Council of European Union, 2014) Furthermore, the 2007 European Commission White Paper on Sport set about creating a new framework for action on doping, which included the wide range of national, international and supranational actors involved. Under this ‘Pierre de Coubertain Action Plan’ the EU, in particular the commission, would act as a facilitator for two distinct ‘partnerships’. (European Commission, 2007) Firstly, member state law enforcement agencies would be encouraged to connect with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) approved laboratories and INTERPOL in order to tackle the production, dissemination and concealment of the illegal pharmaceuticals in question. This reflects a shift in thinking with the focus being placed on the criminal side to the doping problem, which for many actors involved is of equal importance to the protection of sporting integrity. Secondly, Commission working groups along with individual sporting governing bodies and member state governments are encoraged to work together to implement a series of educational measures for athletes, coaches and volunteers. This would aim to address the prevention of use and damage to personal health concerns related to doping. Ultimately, under this initiative the EU would act as a facilitatory network between the parties concerned, without being directly involved to any significant extent. By accounting for the wide range of issues through these two partnerships, the Commission has recognised the potentially conflicting interests of the actors involved and attempted to effectively manage inter-actor relations.

The CE, and since 2007, the Commission, occupy the role of facilitator in much of the action on doping within, and beyond, EU borders. While the Treaty of Lisbon increased the power of the council and commission to monitor the implementation of their measures, the role of EU institutions remains largely advisory. This is a crucial role within the policy network approach. Critics may argue that the EU relies too heavily on the smooth-running of the partnerships it encourages between member state policing agencies and INTERPOL to tackle drug production at the source and in its distribution. Similarly, the education of athletes is largely left to individual sporting bodies. It remains to be seen whether this remaining level of localisation, which leaves room for disunity will be lessened under the leadership and guidance of the CE.

The main threat to the success of harmonisation and implementation of anti-doping policy can be seen in the cases of other large –scale EU projects like CAP which have shown that leaving discretion for implementation largely to member state governments or outside agencies can lead to a lack of cohesion and in some cases to the misappropriation of authority and funds. The role of the EU as legislator and network facilitator in the case of the anti-doping debate shows promise for the success of the institutions in this policy-making capacity. For the harmonization of regulations on anti-doping, or any other subject, to have a genuine effect, the EU will have to work towards more stringent, uniform, cross-border, and fully binding legislation, particularly in the area of criminal prosecution for production and supply of the drugs in question, while continuing to encourage and facilitate the education of athletes and the expansion of rigorous testing.

Aisling O’Leary is an undergraduate student at UCD currently pursuing a BA in Politics and History. After graduating this year, she hopes to continue her studies with a masters in the field of international relations, with the aim of delving into academic interests including security studies and international political economy.



  • Council of the European Union, Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, (2014). Resolution on EU Work Plan for Sport 2001-2014. Strasbourg: Council of the European Union.
  • Council of the European Union (2014). The Anti-doping Convention. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 10/11/14].
  • Council of the European Union, (2007). Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 1st ed. Lisbon: Council of the European Union.
  • European Commission (2014). Doping – European Commission. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 11/11/14].
  • European Commission, (2007). White Paper on Sport 2007. Brussels: European Commission.
  • European Commission, (2014). Report from the Commission to the Parliament, the Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions on the Implementation of the EU Work Plan for Sport 2001-2014. Brussels: European Commission.
  •      Gregg, R.W, (19720 UN economic, social and technical activities, in Barros, J. (ed) The United Nations, past, present and future. New York:Free Press
  • Houlihan, B, (1997). Sport, Policy and Politics: A Comparative Analysis. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Houlihan, B, (1999). Anti-Doping Policy in Sport: The Politics of International Policy Co-ordination. Public Administration. 77 (2), pp.311-334
  • Hums, M,A. and MacLean, J.C, (2004). Governance and Policy in Sport Organizations. 1st ed. Arizona: Hathaway.
  • World Anti-Doping Agency (2012). The Code – WADA. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 10/11/14].



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