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Is the current sports drug-testing regime fair?

By Chris Lewis - posted Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Many national and international sporting federations today are indeed very determined to eradicate the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Testing now includes biological passports which involve measuring and monitoring an athlete's blood variables over time and establishing an individual longitudinal profile. This approach is much more effective in regard to catching athletes using synthetic versions of testosterone, erythropoietin (EPO) and human growth hormone (HGH), natural hormones of the body.

Just recently, biological passport analysis caught three elite athletes from the 2011 International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Championships: Inna Eftimova (Bulgaria) tested positive for synthetic Growth Hormone, while the samples of Nataliya Tobias (Ukraine) and Antonina Yefremova, (Ukraine) both contained traces of synthetic testosterone.

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Six other athletes were also caught recently through biological passport analysis with four of them already admitting guilt: Abderrahim Goumri (Morocco), Iríni Kokkinaríou (Greece), Meryem Erdogan (Turkey), Svetlana Klyuka (Russia), Nailiya Yulamanova (Russia) and Yevgenina Zinurova (Russia).

There is also a new test for CERA, or continuous erythropoietin receptor activator, developed to treat anemia caused by kidney disease, which has resulted in a handful of users being caught, including the 2008 Olympic Games 1,500 meter gold medalist Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain.

As table 1, 2 & 3 illustrate (WADA and IAAF data), one can see the enormous effort towards catching drug cheats through many thousands of drug tests, although total numbers fell in 2010.

 

Table 1: Number of samples analysed by all accredited laboratories around world & adverse findings as percentage of such tests, excluding those tests which may be allowed for therapeutic purposes

 

2003

2008

2009

2010

Olympic Sports

113,559

202,067

187,029

180,584

Non-Olympics

37,651

72,548

90,899

77,683

Total

151,210

274,615

277,928

258,267

Adverse findings

 

 

 

 

Olympic Sports

 

0.98%

0.90

0.9

Non-Olympics

 

1.35%

1.56%

1.5

Total

 

1.08%

1.11%

1.08%

 

Table 2: Number of IAAF tests since 1990 (selected years)

 

1990

1996

2000

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

In-competition

740

851

848

997

1277

1258

1426

1590

1860

1844

Out-of-competition

80

1755

2062

2001

2127

1656

1851

1907

1820

1862

Total

820

2606

2090

2998

3404

2914

3277

3497

3680

3706

Table 3: 2010 IAAF tests –breakdown of urine and blood tests

Tests

Pre-Competition

In-Competition

Out-of-competition

Total

Standard urine

 

 

 

 

2010

10

1082

1383

2475

2009

8

920

1140

2068

2008

0

655

1118

1773

Urine EPO

 

 

 

 

2010

35

762

434

1231

2009

95

940

577

1612

2008

74

935

705

1714

Total Urine

 

 

 

 

2010

45

1844

1817

3706

2009

103

1860

1717

3680

2008

74

1590

1823

3487

Blood screens

(haematological parameters)

 

 

 

 

2010

399

0

145

544

2009

780

0

149

929

2008

656

0

0

656

Blood tests for prohibited substances and methods

 

 

 

 

2010

46

0

14

60

2009

115

45

15

175

2008

0

0

41

41

Total blood tests

 

 

 

 

2010

455

0

159

604

2009

895

45

164

1104

2008

656

0

41

697

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But there is still a long way to go given immense differences between nations in terms of testing regimes, despite the potential of biological passports and the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport being adopted by 191 governments at the UNESCO General Conference in October 2005.

According to Dick Pound, the former chief of WADA, only a few drugs cheats were likely to be caught at the 2012 London Olympics with his estimate that around 10 per cent of athletes were still likely to be benefiting from drugs.

Pound also suggested that Jamaican athletes, who have dominated the sprint events at the London Olympics, should expect more visits by drugs testers. When asked by Reuters Television whether he was happy with the way Jamaica tested its athletes events, Pound stated "No, they are one of the groups that are hard to test, it is (hard) to get in and find them and so forth".

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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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