WADA report on Rio dope testing flaws

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At every Olympic games there is a drug testing programme, coordinated by the local organising committee on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). For the past few games there has also been a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) “Independent Observer Team” to monitor these tests.  Their report was released by WADA this week.

drug freeThe “Report of the Independent Observers” released by WADA yesterday makes for good reading in some eyes but builds increased scepticism around the ‘war on doping’ in others.  The report was welcomed by the IOC, in a statementon on their website the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Director claims the report highlights a “successful anti-doping programme”.  However reading of some of the details and criticisms suggests this is not wholely accurate.

I have picked out a few issues from the report to highlight my thoughts:

The good

The number of tests was not too far below the stated aims.  They aimed for approximately 4500 urine samples, 450 blood samples and 450 blood samples for the athlete biological passport. The final numbers reported were 4037 urine, 411 bloods and 434 passport samples.  From the total of 5380 planned samples 4882 were collected, around 10% below target.

Authorities received 37 tip offs during the games, which fed back into the target testing.

Lab procedures were praised, with security and sample preservation being vastly improved from previous (well, Socchi was rather a low point). Given the accreditation was only received for th lab a week or two prior to the games this is good!

Pre games specific targetting of at risk athletes resulted in 20 positive tests, preventing those athletes from attending the games.

A relatively low sample positive rate of around 0.5% (28/4800), and 14 of those positive samples could be explained by Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs).

The Bad

Confusion in the lead up to the games meant staff were often unprepared or trained properly. This applied to the chaperones who collect athletes and deliver them to the testing stations, as well as the collection officers and also wharehouse staff so occasionally incorrect deliveries were made and equipment was missing.  A large part of this was due to changes in organising committee personel less than a year out from the games. Various other organisational issues were highlighted such as inadequate IT provision.

A contract with blood collection agency was cancelled meaning instead of the 25 trained collectors there were only 10, leading to initially very low numbers of samples. Some days no blood samples were collected and analysed at all.

The top 5 in each event were to be tested, this was not always the case due to organisational issues and lack of trained officers.  Only 28% of athletes were tested at all (although this is not in itself a poor figure).

Given all the post games focus on TUES (see articles here and here for more of my opinions on these) it was interesting to read that of the 67 that were applied for, 15 applications were not needed and the other 52 were granted. Now this could mean all were above board or it could mean that there is still not enough scrutiny of there need. Of those granted 36 were for glucocorticoids, the same as per Bradley Wiggins. It would reassure many if they thought some were turned down at some point.

The Ugly

Lack of pre games testing of some athletes (even with the successes above). A list of the 10 most ‘at risk’ sports was drawn up prior to the games. A total of 1300 athletes were identified as contenders in these sports having inadequate doping controls planned or taken in 2016. These names were sent to the governing bodies who were requested to test them, but one third of those requests were ignored. The IOC themselves paid for an additional 162 tests, meaning still that there were at least a few hundred of the most at risk atheltes with no pre games tests.  Overall from the 11470 athletes at the games around one third of them had not been tested in 2016. This in my mind is very poor, even if some can claim to be amateurs in sports low in doping risk, many were not.  There were 1913 athletes in high risk sports with no testing record in 2016 at all.

Up to 50% of planned out of competition tests were not carried out each day due to lack of information as to where athltes were, and poor management of the doping control stations.  Some sports had no out of competition tests at all.  To get to near the final required numbers is good going given this.

During the games some experts reviewing athlete biological passport data saw anomolies that should have been flagged before then. Why were these not picked up before?


These are just some of the ‘highlights’ from the 55 age report. I’ll leave you to form your opinions as to whether this was a succesful games, but for the drug testing side I think this reports reveals big problems. It also highlights biggger issues within the anti doping world. A fw questions spring to mind: How are some athletes in ‘at risk sports’ not being tested at all in the 8 months prior to their major competition? How are athlete biological passports not being reviewed thoroughly? Why were not all whereabout known and shared during the games (suggestions to improve this include a chip in athlete accreditation that may be tracked)?


Thanks for reading, feel free to comment!

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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. 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. And yes... he watches CSI.