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Ahead of Tokyo Olympics, Drug Testing Is a Struggle

  • May 06, 2021

Because many athletes are traveling to fewer competitions, they are harder to reach for testing.

“We’re not back to the full capacity we were operating at, but we are very close,” said Jeremy Luke, senior director of sport integrity for the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport, which manages antidoping efforts in that country. Luke said that in recent months officials had focused heavily on athletes who have made the Olympic team and those who are attempting to earn a spot. “It’s not operating in the same way as in the past, but it is operating.”

A robust, comprehensive testing program hardly ensures doping-free competitions, even though positive tests are rare. Lance Armstrong, the retired cyclist who admitted to doping throughout his career, won the Tour de France seven times without getting tossed for a positive test. But the tests put athletes on notice that they are being monitored and make it more complicated to use performance-enhancing drugs without getting caught.

Nearly every country and international sports organization keeps private the names and exact dates connected to tests. The United States is a rare exception.

American athletes pushed for transparency in the early 2000s, when a series of scandals threatened the credibility of the country’s sporting success. Those who support publicly revealing who gets tested, and their results, say it is the only way to ensure accountability and provide athletes with information about how often their opponents have been tested. Some people who argue against public disclosure say it could help cheaters detect testing patterns and game the system.

“You get five different experts in a room and you will get six different opinions on this,” Cohen said.

Also, privacy laws vary from country to country.

“We have been considering it, but it is complicated for us, as we need to seek specific data protection approval from the Monaco authorities to do so,” said Aditya Kumar, an official with the Athletics Integrity Unit, which manages the testing program for World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field.

As part of its effort to not repeat mistakes made before the Rio Games, the International Testing Agency convened a group of antidoping experts in December to study what tests needed to be done during the crucial months leading up to the Tokyo Games, which begin in late July. In 2016, that work began less than three months before the start of the Games.

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