Anti-doping testing in athletics: standardisation-and-harmonisation negative

Bill CuddihyBill Cuddihy is a former Chief Medical Officer of Athletics Ireland and has been a member of the Anti-Doping Committee of Irish Sports Council since 2007

 

The doping problem is slowly killing many sports, especially Olympic sports like Track and Field Athletics. Major changes are required in how we tackle these problems. But how far away are we from Standardisation and Harmonisation in the world of anti-doping? The answer is, a long way. 

Some months ago I checked the latest World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Annual Report, which includes all testing figures from 2014. I looked specifically at Track and Field Athletics. I have correlated these test figures against the Elite Athlete population for selected countries to look at types and rates of testing in these countries.

For the last 4 years WADA have been releasing detailed Annual Reports giving a sport-by-sport, country-by-country breakdown of anti-doping tests carried out in WADA accredited laboratories. It is now possible to compare anti-doping regimes in different countries to see if there is a level playing field.

In my opinion the anti-doping activity in any country should reflect the sporting profile of that country and to that end I have identified the Elite Athlete Track & Field population in the countries that are most successful in Track & Field Athletics and in certain selected neighbouring countries.

Using the Association of Track and Field Statisticians Annual Report 2015, I have identified the top 50 performing athletes in each Olympic Track & Field discipline, eliminating duplication where an athlete might appear in the top 50 in two events, e.g. 100m and 200m.

Interestingly, most countries surveyed roughly have 1 Elite Athlete per million in the population. The United States has 345 athletes for a population of 324 million; Russia has 145 athletes to 144 million and so on. My own country, Ireland, has 7 elite athletes to total island population of 6 million. The big outliers are Kenya, 160 athletes to 44 million, Jamaica, 69 athletes to less than 3 million and China, 69 athletes to 1.4 billion.

According to the WADA report, there is no recorded anti-doping activity in Ethiopia for 2014 or previous years. Kenya did a total of 52 In-Competition (IC) urine tests only, and Ukraine did 2 IC tests for the whole of 2014, one at each of its two testing centres, notably positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Russia produced statistics that appeared quite good but these figures did not stand up to scrutiny when audited by WADA in 2015. Indeed it was obvious to anyone who read the Annual Reports of Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) for 2010, 2011 and 2012 – published in English online – that the figures they were producing were just not credible.

Out-of-Competition (OOC) urine tests were for many years the basic currency of anti-doping and the rate of such OOC tests can still be used as a yardstick to gauge the stringency of a national anti-doping programme. By and large, other tests such as the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) and other blood test rates tend to correspond to OOC urine tests.

Some countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Ukraine, did zero OOC urine tests. Brazil, the hosts in Rio, did 0.8 OOC tests per Elite Athlete, Jamaica 1.7, USA, Canada, France and Spain did between 2 and 3 such OOC tests, Great Britain 3.1, Russia – for what it’s worth – reported 5.2, Germany 8, Sweden 10.5, Ireland 14 and China 21.

The WADA Code refers to Standardisation and Harmonisation of anti-doping testing across the world. Based on these figures there is no evidence of these standards being met. Many of the most successful countries in Track and Field Athletics do little or no testing at all, and many of the top athletes are choosing to base themselves in countries that do no testing whatsoever.

In my opinion, WADA should set basic minimum testing standards - in terms of frequency and types of tests, they should be given resources to aid certain countries to achieve those standards, they should be given the power to pro-actively audit compliance with those standards, and WADA should be given the power to exclude from competition – including Olympic Games – countries that are non-compliant.

Comparative Anti-Doping Figures

Country Elite Athletes OOC Tests Rate of OOC Test Rate per Elite Athlete
USA 345 815 2.4
Kenya 160 0 0
Russia 145 760 5.2
Germany 92 733 8
Ethiopia 85 0 0
Great Britain 77 242 3.1
Jamaica 69 119 1.7
China 69 1458 21.1
Ukraine 60 0 0
France 54 143 2.6
Canada 39 89 2.3
Brazil 35 28 0.8
Spain 30 73 2.4
Sweden 21 222 10.6
Ireland 7 98 14

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