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Doping became inevitable at the Olympics. And who will win gold in Tokyo may not be sure until 2031

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Another Olympics is ahead of us, inexorable even in the face of COVID. Along with that comes the inevitable, ridiculous speculation about doping scandals.

There have been doping scandals at every Olympics in my life and a few before that, reaching the middle of the 20th century. Now, due to the slowdown between new drugs entering the sport and the development of reliable drug tests, there is a 10-year window for retrospective testing. This leaves the question of who exactly wins what open question for a decade.

As the testing window used for the 2012 London Olympics was closed (eight years ago), we only now have a final account of both the medals and the doping in those games.

According to Olympic historian Bill Malone, more than 140 athletes have been banned or disqualified, including 42 medalists (13 of them gold). Almost half were caught using retrospective testing.

Because doping has become so much a part of the Olympics, one wonders whether the inevitable doping scandals in Tokyo will be as destructive as ever, or whether the audience will just shrug.

How many positive tests are returned each year

The anti-doping industry has become much better at what it has been doing since the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2000 and the introduction of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) in 2001. WADC revisions came into force in 2009, 2015 and 2021

WADA has invested $ 83 million (A $ 112 million) in developing more advanced drug testing capabilities since 2001 and $ 3.6 million (A $ 4.8 million) in doping prevention research. since 2005.

Tokyo’s official games are expected to officially cost $ 15.4 billion ($ 20.8 billion) (with audits suggesting the real figure is at least $ 25 billion, or $ 33.8 billion), but the amount money that WADA has spent on research since 2001 seems modest.

Despite this investment, the percentage of positive tests remains quite stable. The latest data published by WADA in 2019 show the share of “unfavorable analytical findings” (the technical term for positive drug tests) in relation to the total number of tests performed, which fluctuate between 0.97% (2019) and 1.32% (2016).

Athletes and their support teams are familiar with the drug testing game. They can use the gap between a new drug to improve the effectiveness that is being developed, this drug is banned and a reliable test developed in their favor. This is just one factor that coaches and other support staff take into account when managing the way their athletes use different medications.

Unless there is a complete change in the game in anti-doping efforts – as a fundamental change in drug testing technology – we can reasonably expect the Olympic year to lead to the same level of “unfavorable analytical findings” as any other year.

This means that athletes are likely to be caught doping in Tokyo. How much – or how long it will take – remains to be seen. With the window for retrospective testing, the final medal and doping toilets will be known only in the second half of 2031.

How the sport became more punitive

While drug testing has become more sophisticated, most changes to the World Anti-Doping Code since 2001 have increased penalties for actions indirectly related to the use of drugs to increase effectiveness (what is known as the “non-analytical” rule violations). ).

There are only two drug-related doping violations in the code found in an athlete’s body. By comparison, there are now nine others dealing with indirect violations.

These include not being where you said you would be three times for out-of-competition drug testing, contacting someone subject to an anti-doping rule sanction, and discouraging someone from reporting potential violations to the authorities.

In many cases, in these types of offenses, athletes and support staff have been defamed and stigmatized as ‘drug cheats’, although there is no direct evidence that they have ever used a banned substance or method.

Last year, for example, American sprinter Christian Coleman received a two-year ban after missing three out-of-competition drug tests in one year. The sports arbitral tribunal reduced the ban to 18 months, noting that it believes Coleman did not use drugs and did not avoid being tested. However, he will still miss the Tokyo Olympics as a “drug cheat.”

All of these rules make life difficult for athletes, but their impact seems to be minimal to reduce interest in drugs that increase effectiveness.

According to the latest WADA report (which provides data only until 2018), only 283 athletes have been sanctioned for “non-analytical” violations of the rules this year, compared to 2,771 athletes for violations directly related to drug ingestion.

To learn to live with doping?

The obvious question is whether we just have to live with a certain amount of doping in sports. Given that the last time the Olympics were without doping controversy was in the middle of the 20th century, it seems so.

This does not mean that we should stop defending the integrity of sport. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that anti-doping is only part of this effort.

As an international leader in anti-doping measures, Australia created Sport Integrity Australia last year to replace Australia’s independent sports anti-doping body.

The move explicitly acknowledges that doping is part of a much bigger picture, which includes match-fixing and athlete abuse.

The bigger scandal is perhaps that so little money is invested in anti-doping and sports integrity. Australia’s sporting integrity is projected to cost Australian taxpayers $ 27.4 million ($ 20.2 million) in 2020-21, compared to the attractive amount of money that goes through Australian sport and leisure each year (19, $ 7 billion or $ 14.5 billion for 2019).

So, it remains to be seen exactly how much attention will be drawn to the inevitable doping scandals at the Tokyo Games. My main concern is that doping scandals have become commonplace, one-day dramas in the sports show, which is the Olympics, and a little more. As such, I suspect any positive

The COVID test will generate much more interest than the positive drug test in Tokyo.

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