Transparency and missed doping control tests

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Recently there have been increasing calls for transparency in sports drug testing,one issue being around missed tests. The Armitstead affair brought this issue to the fore last month. Should athletes have a right to privacy or should all such test statistics be freely searchable on the internet?

Rio

British cyclist and current World Champion Lizzie Armitstead almost missed the Rio games due to three missed doping control tests.  This was only discovered after she had been suspended and then successfully appealed one miss to the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS).  Three missed tests over any twelve month period means an athlete is in breach of the anti doping rules and faces a ban.  Instead Armitstead went to Rio (along with two other unnamed Team GB athletes) on two missed tests, aware another in the next few months will lead to a suspension.

There have since been calls for transparency in anti doping, making the processes involved clearer to athletes and the public. I would start this with transparency for testing statistics. How about a searchable database of all athletes within each sporting jurisdiction?  Within the database would be dates of all tests undertaken, and possibly missed by each athlete. No actual results would be available to the public, just dates and type of test (in or out of competition).  This would allow us to be able to put some context behind the missed test. For example we may see that an athlete has missed two tests but has completed 100 in the past year. This makes it a little less suspicious than an athlete who has had two missed tests and completed just one in the last year. Another useful thing is to look at historical data for context. Has an athlete missed two tests every year during their career or is this really an exceptional year for some reason.

On Twitter there were many commenting on how similar this was to four years ago where Mo Farah was reported to be on two missed tests. Many questioned whether this was a Team GB approach or just two unrelated high profile incidents?  The database would let you find out easily enough.

The next step for this would be to have full data transparency for testing results. Many have called for the athlete biological passport data to be published online to enable public accountability.  This may be a step to far for many, more than simply dates, encouraging finger pointing from “so called experts“.

 

On the other hand you have some suggesting the current system of whereabouts filings and testing is counter to an athletes right to privacy. So should the current system be in place at all, let alone made more transparent?  This is an interesting argument to be had. Does the ability to compete at high level sporting contests and the pride and spoils of victory mean an athlete has to forgo a certain amount of privacy? How would academics, lawyers, postal workers and any other assorted worker you can think of, accept having to let their employer know where they are for one hour of everyday (even outside normal working hours) and be subject to gossip and innuendo if they are not where they said?

Any thoughts? I am siding on the athlete having to forgo some of their privacy to represent their nation or to gain the rewards of many of the top sports stars.  I think a database of test statistics would be a place to start the argument!

 

Thanks for reading!

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Dr Tom Bassindale

About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. Dr B is currently a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. And yes... he watches CSI.