Drugs in Archery

Why athletes take drugs

Sporting organisations and individual sportsmen and women often seek to preserve what is collectively held as being valuable about sport; the spirit of sport. This spirit of sport has as its core values, fair play, honesty, good health, dedication and commitment and respect for self and other competitors. In addition to valuing this spirit of sport, athletes look for the rewards of success, both financial and in personal glory and therefore seek every competitive advantage. This results in a huge pressure to train longer and harder and to take a scientific approach to nutrition and fluid and electrolyte balance and to gain every biomechanical and psychological advantage.

This fact should not surprise us. In fact, drugs have been used to enhance performance since ancient times with the Ancient Greeks and Romans using mushrooms and herbs. However, drug taking is contrary to the spirit of sportsmanship and is against all the principles of fair competition. It can also be dangerous for the athlete’s health.

Drug Regulation in Sport

As a result of a number of deaths and allegations of drug taking, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) set up a Medical Commission in 1967 which banned the use of drugs and other performance enhancing substances. At the 1968 Olympics the IOC carried   out   a regime of preliminary drug testing for stimulants in all events and in 1971 the first list of banned substances, including stimulants and analgesics, was released. By the 1972 Olympics, in Munich, the IOC had carried out drug testing on every athlete rather than just a few selected athletes. By 1975 anabolic steroids were banned following the development of a test; a surge of disqualifications due to steroid use followed. In 1983 testosterone was added to the list of banned drugs and this was followed in 1986 by a ban on blood doping and then on erythropoietin (EPO) in 1990.

In the mid 1990s there were a large number of doping offences committed and the World Conference on Doping was held in Switzerland in 1999. As a result, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was formed to promote and co- ordinate the fight against drug use in sport on an international level, across all sports. WADA was set-up under the initiative of the IOC and with the support of other international organisations and governments. WADA remains a non-governmental organisation which draws support from a diverse range of both sporting and non-sporting organisations.

Archery and Drug Regulation

The Archery GB Code of Conduct (October 2012) states that

“Archery GB has resolved that the UK Anti-Doping Rules shall be the Anti- Doping Rules of Archery GB”.

The Archery GB Code of Conduct also states that

“UK Sport has produced the UK Anti-Doping Rules to comply with the World Anti-Doping Code”.

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) operates a national anti-doping programme and is therefore responsible for the collection and transportation of samples to a World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory. UKAD is also responsible for reporting test results to Archery GB or World Archery.

Substances and Methods Banned in All Sports

The WADA Prohibited List is an International Standard. The List groups substances and methods by those that are banned at all times (in and out of competition), those that banned in-competition only, and those that are banned by a particular sport. WADA is responsible for maintaining this list and it is updated annually to keep up with the advances in science and technology. Although an updated Prohibited List is published every January, substances can be added to the list at any time.

A substance is added to this list if it meets two of the three criteria listed below:

  • Potential for enhanced performance
  • Potential for being detrimental to health
  • Violation of the spirit of sport

The 2015 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods was issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in October 2014 and will come into force on 1 January 2015; at the same time as the revised World Anti-Doping Code.

The Prohibited List specifies substances and methods prohibited in sport, and is the single list for organisations, such as Archery GB and World Archery, that have adopted the Code.

The following substances are banned at all times:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Hormones including erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone (hGH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), adrenocorticotrpic hormone (ACTH)
  • Beta-2-agonists
  • Hormone Modulators such as tamoxifen and metabolic modulators including insulin
  • Diuretics and other masking agents

The following methods are banned at all times:

  • Enhancement of oxygen transfer such as blood doping and artificial oxygen carriers
  • Gene doping

The following substances are banned in competition:

  • Stimulants including amphetamines, ephedra, cocaine
  • Narcotics
  • Cannabinoids
  • Glucocorticoids

Substances  Banned in Archery

In addition to the Prohibited List there are also two additional substances that are banned in archery. Alcohol (ethanol) is prohibited In-Competition only and detection is conducted by analysis of breath and/or blood. The doping violation threshold is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 g/L.

Beta-blockers are prohibited both Out of Competition and In-Competition. Beta-blockers are used by athletes who require a steady hand, increased focus and a relaxed state of mind to perform at the highest level. Beta-blockers are banned because they block the effect of adrenaline and help the heart work more efficiently thereby reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tremors and even anxiety. Examples of beta blockers that are used illegally are Propanolol which is used to steady the hands and increase the ability to focus, metoprolol with its extended release formula and atenolol which helps athletes control symptoms of performance anxiety.

Interestingly, although beta-blockers have been added to the prohibited list for archery, no scientific research has been carried out on archers concerning the effects of beta- blockers. In addition, there have been lots of developments in the field of beta blockers, especially with the introduction of cardio selective beta blockers (which affect only heart activity).  Therefore World Archery has proposed a study on the effect of beta blockers on fine motor performance in archery (Ergen and Faina). The main parameters that will be measured are postural sway, aiming behaviour, mechanical clicker reaction time and actual shooting scores. The work on this project has halted, but is expected to continue in the future.

The Testing Procedure

The precise procedures for testing for banned substances vary from sport to sport and organization to organization, but they all follow the following basic procedure.

An athlete is asked to submit a urine and/or blood sample and this sample is identifiable only by a barcode or serial number in order to preserve the anonymity of the sample. The more easily a sample can be identified, the more likely the integrity of the sample can be compromised, either by an employee handling the sample or the technician testing the sample or anyone else along the chain of custody.

Before the sample is tested, it is split into an A-sample and a B-sample. First, the A-sample is tested by the lab. If the A-sample comes back negative, then the B-sample is discarded and there is no further action taken, except perhaps a notification to the athlete that his/her sample passed the test. However, if the A-sample comes back positive, then the athlete and other sporting officials, such as representatives from the IOC and/or the governing sports federation, are notified. Then, they usually have the option of being present for the breaking of the seal on the B-sample and the subsequent testing. If the B-sample comes back positive (as it should, unless there was a testing error with the A-sample, or the A-sample was tampered with) then the athlete has officially tested positive, and the sport’s anti-doping procedures are set into place.

Archers competing at UK or World record status tournaments may be liable for drugs testing. Entry forms for such competitions state that competitors who are approached to give samples must comply and that non-compliance will be treated as a positive result.

Junior archers require parental consent for drug testing and entry forms must be signed by the parent or legal guardian of the Junior (U18), giving approval for drug testing to be carried out. If a Junior is selected and he/she refuses the test or signed parental consent is not given he/she is treated as having ‘failed’ the drug test. This means that the archer could be banned for a minimum of two years. It is therefore vital that the parent/legal guardian gives written approval for a test to be carried out. It is not acceptable for a club official to sign the form on behalf of a parent/guardian.

Therapeutic Use Exemption

In some cases an athlete may have a pre-existing medical condition which requires them to take medication which is listed by the WADA on the Prohibited List. In this case the athlete can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) which must be verified by a medical professional. In order to be accepted for a TUE the following must be true:

  • The athlete would suffer significant health problems if he/she did not take the medication
  • There is no suitable alternative which is not on the Prohibited List
  • There are no considerable performance enhancing benefits

Advice for archers taking medication

Archery GB state that any archer who is likely to be placed in the top 5 in their category at a National Tournament and who is taking prescribed medication that is on the Prohibited List should obtain a TUE. Therefore there will be no need for the majority of archers to seek a TUE. However, any archer who is selected for drug testing and who is taking prescribed medication that is on the Prohibited List and who does not possess a relevant TUE must contact the Archery GB Drug Control Officer within the Performance Unit for advice. This must be done by telephone on the first working day after the test.

It is the duty of an archer who is prescribed a medicine to check whether the medicine is prohibited. This can be done by checking the Global Drug Reference Online system at www.globaldro.co.uk. If the medication is not prohibited, archers can start using the prescribed medication or treatment.

If the medication is prohibited the archer should check with his/her prescribing physician or the sport’s medical personnel to see if there are any alternative medications or treatments that are permitted.

If there are no permitted alternatives, the archer should contact the Archery GB Drug Control Officer within the Performance Unit to find out what type of exemption is required and if a TUE should be applied for prior to use or after doping control. The follow-up action required will vary according to circumstances. The archer may be advised to apply for a retrospective TUE immediately, in which case the application form is to be returned to Archery GB Performance for registration, forwarding and processing as a priority.

Failing a drug test: penalties

The penalties for an archer failing a drug test vary depending on the drug used and other factors. For example, World Archery in their ‘Communications of Sanctions’ on August 25th 2014 reports the following:

The archer Massimo MARCUCCI (ITA) has been sanctioned by the Italian Anti-Doping Organization, as follows:

  • Disqualification of individual and team results obtained on 9 February 2014, including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes
  • 1 month suspension starting on 28 March 2014
  • 100 EUR fine
  • Anti-doping rule violated according to the World Anti-Doping Code, Art.2.1: Presence of a prohibited substance (Atenolol), its metabolites or its markers in an athlete’s sample”

Atenolol is a commonly used by athletes to reduce performance anxiety, but is banned because it is a beta blocker.

In addition the same communication stated that:

“The archer Gugliemo VIDALE (ITA) has been sanctioned by the by the Italian Anti-Doping Organization, as follows:

  • Reprimand
  • 325 EUR fine
  • Anti-doping rule violated according to the World Anti-Doping Code, Art.2.1: Presence of a prohibited substance (Hydrochlorothiazide), its metabolites or its markers in an athlete’s sample”.

Hydrochlorothiazide is a diuretic, which is banned because it can dilute the presence of other performance enhancing drugs meaning that they cannot be detected.

Another archer, Denisse van Lamoen from Chile, tested positively for amphetamine and had to return all her medals in 2002. FITA gave her a 2 year ban from archery.

Failing a drug test: right of appeal

The Archery GB Code of Conduct states that ‘an archer or archer support person found guilty of a doping offence shall have the right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is an institution which is independent of any sporting body or organisation and it was first created in 1984. It is placed under the authority of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS).

Drug Use in Archery

The WADA publish data on anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) for specific sports. This published data shows that in 2009 the International Federation for archery (FITA) reported one adverse finding (AAF) and no anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs). In 2008 FITA reported one AAF and one ADRV. There have been no AAFs in archery at the Olympic Games

The role of the coach is integral to shaping the values, attitudes and beliefs an athlete has towards a sport which is not tainted with performance enhancing drugs. Archers who are at Performance Level will most likely be acutely aware of the anti-doping rules, but archers at a lower level are probably unaware of the Prohibited List. From the evidence of archery forum discussions it is these archers who are seeking a competitive edge and who are experimenting with performance enhancing drugs. There are also archers at this level who are unwittingly taking medications that are on the Prohibited List. For example the stimulants Pseudoephedrine and Levmetamfetamine are prohibited in competition and yet are the ingredients in several cold and flu products. In addition many archers diagnosed with Insulin-dependent Diabetes compete without recognising that insulin is on the prohibited list.

The topic of drugs in sport and specifically in archery is one that warrants much research and coaches, and archers, need to keep up to date with information. 


“Effects of beta blockers on fine motor performance in archery” Dr. E. Ergen, Dr. M. Faina (World Archery Federation Switzerland)



Proceedings of the World Archery Congress, Belek Antalya, 2013






“Performance Enhancing Drugs: History, Medical Effects & Policy” by Yu-Hsuan Lee, April 2006 (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:8848241)

FITA Manual FIGHT against DOPING   Module  Intermediate level

UKAD Anti doping Report 2010/11

The World Anti-Doping Code     THE 2015 PROHIBITED LIST