© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is urging organisers of global competitions to keep samples of drug tests for as long as possible. Currently, organisers are typically keeping them for up to four years. This is not long enough and therefore problematic.

Reanalysis of test samples dating back to 2004, with new testing technology in place, is catching athletes who competed in the Athens Olympic Games.

New testing procedures has resulted in an increase in positive tests in subsequent Olympic Games, which are the 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics.

Recently, five Athens athletes have been sanctioned. According to the publication Inside the Games, 65 cases emerged from 2008 and 60 from 2012. The eight-year statute of limitations is up next year for London. There will be some dirty athletes breathing a sigh of relief in summer 2020. However, the limitations extend to 10 years from Rio and on. This is still not long enough.

The Olympic Council of Asia has no intention of keeping samples for longer than the minimum of three months – why is there a minimum and why so short? This will prove to be a major issue as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games are on the horizon.

A solution would be for WADA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and regional and national Olympic organisations and national anti-doping agencies to jointly fund an independent storage facility. The responsibility should not be with an organiser of an event, but a non-conflicting independent organisation, perhaps a new one. Additionally, a minimum 20-year statute of limitations should apply.

If a 20-year (or longer) window is in place, it would provide an additional disincentive for athletes to dope, because the long arm of the law can reach back and re-test as technology improves. Also, reaching back will provide opportunity for the rightful medallists to earn their moment in the sun.

A policy should be in place where all regional and global games samples are kept for a minimum of 20 years.

According to Inside the Games, WADA stated that samples should be prioritised by high-risk countries and high-risk sports. This is problematic because athletes that represent non-so-called high-risk countries may see an opportunity. For example, recently Kenyan athletes have been testing positive at a much higher rate than Ethiopians, however, the testing in Kenya has increased, whereas it is difficult and costly for WADA to enter into Ethiopia and provide out of competition testing. Ironically, the results only equal the efforts (of testers).

The apparent expense for WADA in accessing Ethiopia could provide an opportunity for Ethiopians to dope at a high rate, and then wean themselves off of the doping protocol in time for a major competition. They, in theory, could show up to a major games “clean,” which may already be common practice. Ethiopia is likely no less a risk than Kenya is.

Additionally, prioritising high-risk sports may provide a window of opportunity for so-called “low-risk” athletes to take up doping, case in point, the Puerto Rico bowling team was sanctioned from the 2019 Lima PanAmerican Games for a positive test. A baseball player from the Dominican Republic was sanctioned for testing positive at the same games. The bowling team won gold. Both the countries and both “sports” are considered low risk.

Independence is key, for example, national or regional Olympic organisations could be in conflict. National governing bodies and anti-doping agencies can be complicit as we have seen in Russia with their apparent state-sponsored systematic doping, while the IAAF was run by Lamine Diack of Senegal – an apparent criminal.

Diack was president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from 1999 to 2015. He is currently under investigation into corruption. He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Diack has been under house arrest since November 2015, and his trial in France started in June 2019. He is facing up to 10 years in jail.

His son Papa Massata Diack was arrested and charged for taking bribes for awarding games to would-be organisers including the 2019 Doha IAAF World Track and Field Championships starting in late September.

After French prosecutors launched an investigation into Tokyo’s bid process over its payment of $2 million USD to an account of a Singaporean consulting firm. British newspaper The Guardian reported has a link to Papa Massata.

The 2019 World Championships and the 2020 Olympic Games were apparently awarded through a bribe process.

The doping tests and the storage of samples need to be as transparent as possible and completely independent. Funding should come from a broad range of sources to make the storage sustainable for long term integrity of all sport.