The chairperson of the Hungarian Anti-Doping Group (HUNADO), Dr. Ágnes Tiszeker has had a fantastic and exciting career, with some hard times and great battles. I have talked to this well-informed and extremely direct lady about the past, present and future of Hungarian doping control.
First of all, could you say a few words about yourself, Ágnes, and how you became the leader of HUNADO?
When I graduated from the Medical University of Budapest (SOTE), I started my practice as a General Practitioner, which I continue to conduct these days as well. I applied for the opportunity to carry out doping control as a young medical student, after the Olympics in Seoul, where doctors and medics were expected who like travelling and sports. I carried on this activity for a while, and then my life took a different turn. I returned to the field in October 2004, after the infamous Olympic Games of Athens, when I was asked to take part in the management of the renewed Hungarian anti-doping system. This is how I became and still am the Chairperson of HUNADO, which operates as an independent organization, among modern arrangements. Naturally, it took us a long way to change several regulations and become fully compliant with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code to make Hungarian doping control acknowledged internationally.
What are HUNADO’s most important tasks?
A part of the work of the group is taking and testing samples from athletes, 900 samples annually for the Hungarian state only, over 3000 samples altogether with orders from abroad.
Besides this, there is another field which I find extremely important: education. There are compulsory educational events in the topic of doping for the Hungarian national and Olympic teams, which we organise and hold, however, leisure athletes and the public have few opportunities to get acquainted with this topic. I think of this latter activity as a central goal for HUNADO in the near future; as we have created credit courses on doping at the University of Debrecen, or the College of Physical Education, we would like to get to secondary pr even, primary schools with our information, as children start sports at considerably young ages, through which they might meet prohibited substances. Above these our priority is to protect those who are clean. We will not be able to stop doping itself, as its creators and pursuers are always a step ahead of us. Of course, we are not far behind, we are aware of several illegal methods and substances which we are unable to detect at the moment, however, we have already formed sanctions about them which we will be able to impose later on. If we can provide more opportunities for those who are choosing the honest way, it is really worth working in this profession.
Where is the border line between already and not yet doping?
Every substance which appears on the international prohibited list, and which can also be seen on the website of HUNADO is considered doping if it is not used by the athlete for health purposes, with a permit. Several of these, like insulin or diuretics, which are necessary in certain treatments, are accessible legally and relatively easily in Hungary, therefore, as opposed to different drugs, it is more difficult to control their use. Another problem is the issue of food supplements. These products are in retail without testing, therefore neither experts nor the public are aware of their ingredients. Nevertheless, if athletes use such supplements, even if unaware, and fail at a doping test, we cannot defend them. It is their responsibility whether they are willing to take the risk and believe what the product description says.
What do you consider the biggest success of your career?
I consider it an absolute success when, after the sad Olympics of Athens and false allegations that Hungarian doping was centrally organised, by today, Hungarian doping control has become known as one of the most reliable systems in the world, and Hungarian sport has also regained its reputation. I would also like to add that when there was a doping scandal about Ági Kovács in 2007-2008, the assessment of HUNADO became very negative at home, speaking about the doping offence of a national icon, however, the rules of WADA were naturally applicable the same way, and we had to take the necessary steps. The fact that we and I could personally remain credible after the case, gained respect and acceptance for us among both athletes and supporters as well.
During the summer significant changes have taken place in doping sanctions. What exactly are these changes?
It has always appeared in the WADA Code that if there has been doping the responsibility is that of the athlete, but also the experts, i.e. coaches and doctors who help him/her. When they were investigating the case of the cyclist Lance Armstrong they found such a well-developed network behind him which drew WADA’s attention to his environment even more. In accordance with this, based on the new Hungarian Criminal Code doping and, specifically, its recommendation or assistance has become punishable by imprisonment. Besides sanctioning athletes the anti-doping profession is able succeed in detecting larger networks.