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Wasting money on sport? Australian government policy and the sport of powerlifting

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 13 February 2015


I would like to think that taxes are utilised effectively, including when it comes to promoting drug free sport.

In the case of powerlifting, however, a sport where individuals (including myself) test their absolute strength through a squat, bench press and deadlift, I argue that Australian government policyhas largely wasted considerable public resources.

This is despite the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) recognising Powerlifting Australia (PA) as the affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and as the National Sporting Organisation (NSO) 'responsible for the governance of the sport' (Email from ASC 19 August 2013), with a hope the sport would become unified in time with all lifters subject to drug testing.

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By 2015, however, Australian powerlifting remains equally divided between lifters subject to testing by the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) and those who are not; substantial public funds continue to go to PA with its small membership, perhaps representing half of Australian powerlifters; and the ASC expresses little interest in the factors dividing the sport.

While PA would not provide details of its membership numbers, nor would the ASC on the basis it 'is organisation owned data' (Email from ASC 19 August 2013), Wilks (PA CEO) indicated in the IPF 2013 annual report that Australia has around 500 lifters in line with 59 tests being conducted for 2012. The number of PA lifters may have grown since.

Although PA has not received direct public funding since 2004-05, and ASADA could not quantify costs concerning drug testing 'for reasons of program integrity' (Email Sept 18, 2013), the cost of public funded tests for PA is substantial. By taking account of ASADA's 2011-12 revenue of $14.78 million and 7196 tests conducted for that year, this calculates to around $2,500 per test and $1,290,000 for the 2008-2013 period given that Australia conducted 516 tests on powerlifters over six years.

Despite considerable public resources being directed to a minor sport, however, you would be wrong to think that the ASC has interest in how powerlifting is faring, and whether PA was achieving a number of policy aims.

First, the ASC is not 'aware of any research on the state of Australian powerlifting' (Email from ASC 19 August 2013), despite considerable public resources being involved.

Second, the Australian government supports an international federation where testing amongst national affiliates is hardly standardised or extensive, albeit it leads the powerlifting world by a long way. Of the 53 national IPF affiliates that reported drug testing during the 2008-2013 period, most conducted fewer tests than Australia which averaged 57 in-competition-tests (ICT) and 29 out-of-competition (OCT) per year for its small number of lifters.

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Of the most important OCT testing, which gives lifters no warning of upcoming tests given that mere ICT can easily be anticipated in terms of drug clearance rates, just 17 nations had an average 5+ tests per year, 12 averaged 10+ tests per year, 11 averaged 20+ per year, and just 7 nations exceeded the Australian average of 29 per year (Sweden, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Belgium and Ukraine).

The US affiliate of the IPF does not even adhere to the IPF request that drug testing be conducted by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratories. In 2013, only 16 USAPowerlifting (UASAPL) drug tests were WADA accredited, with a USAPL National Governing Body Meeting acknowledging that several athletes who tested positive in WADA laboratories escaped detection via Quest and Redwood laboratory testing. 2013 USAPL testing data also indicates that only 35 of the 894 tests conducted in 2013 were OCT, representing less than 4 per cent of total tests.

Of the five champion US lifters invited to compete in PA competitions in recent years, they collectively faced just two OCT by the USAPL and the IPF during 2012 and 2013, although 18 ICT were conducted.

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This article is a summary of Chris Lewis, 'Another sports drug-testing failure: Australian government policy and powerlifting', International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics.



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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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