What the IAAF can do to stop drug cheats

Chris Lewis Roar Guru

By Chris Lewis, Chris Lewis is a Roar Guru


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    Has the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) gotten on top of drug cheating? No way.

    As the IAAF president Lord Coe acknowledged, he could not guarantee that the 2017 World Athletics Championships will be drug-free on the basis that “people will always seek to cheat.”

    While it is now much harder to cheat due to improved testing, which includes retesting past global championship medal winners, the IAAF remains an unfair playing field because there is simply no way of ensuring that all national federations behave the same way with regards to enforcing comprehensive drug testing regimes.

    The recent example of Russia’s athletic federation, banned in 2016 after a report found that over 1,000 athletes benefited from a state-sponsored doping program between 2011 and 2015, is just a small illustration of the problem as some nations (both poor and corrupt) have less desire to prevent their athletes from winning global medals.

    Where athletes reside in countries with much less stringent testing regimes, they are more capable of utilising and benefiting from illegal performance enhancing drugs before travelling overseas to compete while testing clear of drugs then subject to other national, IAAF and WADA testing.

    Some banned drugs, including testosterone, have enormous benefit to athletes. Angel Hernandez, formerly known as Angel Heredia when he was a chemist for BALCO (which supplied drugs to Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery), stated before the 2008 Olympic Games 100m final that none of the contestants will be clean with “the difference between 10.0 and 9.7 seconds” being “drugs”.

    That is why some journalists do the right thing and report both the strengths and weaknesses of the existing IAAF drug testing protocol. With athletes always seeking new advantages, there is always a need for drug testing scrutiny.

    This is despite Usain Bolt expressing anger after one reporter suggested a possible link with stronger anti-doping regulations given that only seven athletes broke 10 seconds during the rounds (22 in 2015), with the male 100m winning time being the slowest since 2003.

    Whether people like it or not, it is a fact that the Jamaican Anti‐Doping Commission conducted just one OCT between March and July before the London Olympics and only 23 out-of-competition tests in 2013, while only commencing blood tests from June 2015 (necessary to detect growth hormone use which also assists power events).

    This is why some journalists continue to highlight deficiencies in certain national testing systems.

    For example, it was reported in February 2016 that Kenyan athletes were still being advised of drug tests a day or weeks before, while an August 2017 article found that Ethiopia was still allowing the blood-boosting drug EPO to be sold freely without a prescription while Ethiopian drug testing authorities offered dubious data concerning the Ethiopian championships.

    So what can be done about the problem of vastly different national testing regimes?

    Should WADA be given more resources? Maybe, but this is unlikely to make much difference if negligent national testing bodies advise their athletes when tests are to be conducted and then allow them not to turn up or be present.

    The big problem with global championships is that it gives an athlete an opportunity to prepare in countries with lax testing regimes (home or abroad). This may include Western athletes who may choose to train abroad to avoid their own comprehensive national testing systems.

    While the use of anabolic steroids can be picked up by testers even after a lengthy break (several months), thus still constituting the biggest source of positive drug tests of all tested sports in 2015, the use of synthetic versions of natural hormones and peptides is much harder to detect given their use requires much smaller clearance time.

    The IAAF itself can encourage a more level playing field through several measures, despite the obvious importance of global championships with its associated sponsorship, television rights, and government assistance to athletes who train and succeed in such events.

    First, it can promote and improve the Diamond League further with higher prize money to provide athletes with more reasons to compete regularly, as well as providing the IAAF and WADA with further opportunities to test athletes.

    At present, prizemoney is similar for both the Diamond League and world championships when all meets are taken into account.

    $US Diamond League Qualifying meets
    (4-6 meets per event)
    Diamond League Final World Championship
    1st $10,000 $50,000 $60,000
    2nd $6,000 $20,000 $30,000
    3rd $4,000 $10,000 $20,000
    4th $3,000 $6,000 $15,000
    5th $2,500 $5,000 $10,000
    6th $2,000 $4,000 $6,000
    7th $1,500 $3,000 $5,000
    8th $1,000 $2,000 $4,000

    However, the Diamond League format could be improved to ensure that athletes have less time to cheat between events and more opportunities to score points.

    As it stands, with each Diamond League event held four to six times during the season (from May to August) with a points scale to qualify for the final event, perhaps events should be scheduled evenly apart to allow less opportunity for an athlete to target a few meets before returning home for a lengthy absence. For example, three of the six male 200m and female 100m events were held in just a two week period (July 1-16).

    To give athletes more opportunity to qualify for the Diamond League finals and encourage more top athletes to compete more regularly, a second-tier competition could be introduced where athletes also score points to qualify for the Diamond League finals, albeit with a lower points scale.

    Of course, all bidding cities would have to meet the most stringent of drug testing protocols involving various testing agencies: national, IAAF and WADA.

    Second, all drug test results should be made available immediately to the public, including the type and date of test, to enable anyone to make astute observations and recommendations.

    At present, there is still too much secrecy with regard to drug testing. For example, Giuseppe Fischetto, who was heavily involved in the drug testing at the London 2017 World Championships, is accused of keeping a record of highly suspicious blood values of many athletes for years.

    With a large number of suspicious values coming Turkish and Russian athletes, Fischetto sought to keep widespread doping quiet, as confirmed by telephone recordings from 2013 where he states “I hope this doesn’t seep through, otherwise there will be a huge international fiasco. Just imagine if the Russians’ data is exposed or the data of the Turks or the others… After all, I’m in the IAAF Commission.”

    Fischetto also indicated support from the then IAAF President Lamine Diack “in every possible way”, with Diack still under investigation from French authorities for the cover-up of doping cases.

    While Sebastian Coe (the current IAAF president) has declared the IAAF’s determination to go to court to ensure that Caster Semenya and other athletes with hyperandrogenism are not allowed to compete unless they take action to suppress naturally high testosterone levels, his desire “to protect the sport” should support the full public disclosure of tests (mostly paid by the public purse).

    Disclosing drug test results, before they are subject to dubious actions, would be just as important as penalising rogue national bodies only after leaked information is brought to the attention of the media which then forces IAAF action.

    Although some athletes may choose to compete on the circuit sparingly, which still allows them time to cheat, an improved and heavily promoted Diamond League, along with full public disclosure of all drug tests to promote analysis and solutions, can further promote the quest to deliver clean and fair track and field.

    If not, then the existing system will still provide some athletes with a considerable opportunity to achieve athletics fame by cheating to win global championship medals by staying home much more and only competing occasionally when they know they will test clean.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • August 15th 2017 @ 5:45am
      Kevin Higginson said | August 15th 2017 @ 5:45am | ! Report

      I like the idea of a ‘World Tour’ of events, similar to ATP tennis, where the points available are different depending on the rating of the event, or similar to the PGA tour, where ranking points are based on the quality of the event entries.

      Athletes would be required to compete in every Diamond league, (where their event was taking place as it would be difficult to ‘double up’ during a Diamond league), and a certain number of Golden League events.

    • August 17th 2017 @ 5:01pm
      DavSA said | August 17th 2017 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

      As an athletic coach here in SA ( now mercifully retired) I found the article particularly relevant especially with the World Champs now recently concluded.

      I really feel for Caster Semenya who trains as hard and is as dedicated to her profession as anyone else out there . Were she be excluded from competing as she clearly has a genetic advantage over fellow female competitors , her only option to stay on the track would be to compete with the men and she clearly is not male. But yes I am afraid she has strength advantages that one would be blind not to notice.

      The prize money table in the article highlights the problems of unclean athletesin the sport . In a country such as South Africa a USD60000.00 bounty for a World Champ Gold when converted to SA Rands literally will set an individual up financially for a long time . In addition they would also get bonuses locally of substantial amounts of money . The temptation to dope can be huge particularly if an athlete ( and they all know) is not a medal contender competing clean. Now I am not for a second insinuating that our athletes are any more or less drug free than in any other country I am suggesting that monetary rewards influence decisions.

      The biggest problem is that for every doctor/medical technician employed to screen athletes there is another standing by to assist the cheats.

      I coached at elite level and must say that I never came across an athlete who did not want to know more about performance enhancing drugs ,although I must say only once ever was I asked to actually assist .

      The most amazing thing is that what stops athletes from actually going the drug route is the fear of exposure . It looms large . Never ever is it a fear of adverse health .

      • August 18th 2017 @ 1:30pm
        jameswm said | August 18th 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        DavSA, let’s start with Semenya. I don’t see how any fair minded person could accept the women’s 800 as it currently is. It is just so grossly unfair. I don’t doubt that Semenya trains hard (so do men – should they be allowed in?), but if you have a Y chromosome, you compete with men. You say she is clearly not male, to my admittedly untrained eye she is clearly not female either, and is closer to male.

        It is a complete and utter farce, it really is. Do you really think it is fair for Caster to compete in the limited category of women’s events?

        Next the drug issue – well, leaving it up to Federations to test OOC is ridiculous. WADA testers should have free reign from each country to come and go as they choose, without giving notice. They don’t have to say who they are testing in advance. Each athlete has to nominate where they will be for a 2-hour window each day, and you should only get one chance every year. Miss a 2nd test, and you’re gone.

        For any country who does not allow WADA testers this free access, remove them from competition, just as the IAAF did with Russia.

        More funding needed for WADA is a no brainer.

        The latest designer peptide is apparently IGF-1 LR3, but no positive tests for it in the last 5-8 years?

        If the sport wants to get serious, there is a list of things you can do. I’ve just started that list.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 5:17pm
      DavSA said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

      Thanks Jameswm , I totally agree that Semenya has an unfair advantage but will not say that too loudly over here . I am in the minority . It is a political hot potato. In fact each time she competes I get an uncomfortable feeling . Seb Coe has as is stated in the article publicly advocated for hyper androgenic athletes to be excluded unless they undergo hormonal therapies of course . I will say it right now that he is entering a political minefield . South Africa in particular will garner support among the numerous African and Asian members of the IOC to try and prevent it happening . Growth hormone is the most used and least detected of all the PHD’s . Not just in Athletics . In rugby I personally believe it is hugely prevalent . There seems to be little steel by the relevant authorities . Almost as if saying we dont really want too much negative press in our respective sports but will show at face value at least compliance .

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