Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ireland's dope testing puts 'lax' elite nations to shame

Irish athletes like World 50k champion walker Rob Heffernan undergo more drug tests than their counterparts from the USA
Irish athletes like World 50k champion walker Rob Heffernan undergo more drug tests than their counterparts from the USA
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IRELAND'S track and field athletes are among the most tested in the world – they are far more rigorously tested than their counterparts in athletics strongholds like USA, Jamaica and Britain.

Dr Bill Cuddihy, a member of the Irish Sports Council's (ISC) anti-doping committee, has undertaken a statistical analysis of the 2012 World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) report and says the comparisons are startling.

"There is no evidence of standardisation or harmonisation in national anti-doping programmes, which is part of WADA's own mission statement," said Cuddihy, who has called for WADA's role to be urgently reviewed.

Cuddihy says the absence of a standard minimum testing system casts serious doubts over some of athletics' biggest superstars, even if they are perfectly clean.


"The testing regimes in places like America, Africa, Jamaica and even Britain are so lax that their athletes cannot defend themselves against whispering campaigns which may be genuinely unwarranted," he noted.

"WADA should be able to set basic minimum standards of testing and countries should face penalties for non-compliance."

Cuddihy was prompted to undertake his analysis after WADA produced its most comprehensive report in 2012 – 149 pages compared to 18 in 2011.

"I wanted to find out if the Sports Council could reassure Irish athletes that their international opponents are subjected to similarly rigorous levels of scrutiny," Cuddihy explained. "Unfortunately I cannot and, frankly, the differences are shocking."

Using a ratio of the number of tests per million of population, Cuddihy estimated Ireland's level of urine testing last year to a value of 32, gave it 10.6 for blood testing and 10.8 for biological passports (ABP).

In contrast, Britain's figures in London Olympic year were 7.6/0.41/0.87.

America's national anti-doping system did even less testing (3.2/0.12/ 0.23), athletics superpower Russia (16.6/1.12/7.27) was better but still a lot lower than Ireland, and the figure for Jamaica (21.8) only applied to urine as they did no blood or ABP tests last year.

Portuguese athletes experience the most rigorous testing regime in the world (35.5/13.1/13.2), with Ireland not far behind, but elsewhere systems are littered with anomalies and inconsistency.

In France 95pc of testing is 'in-competition' (compared to 20pc here), and their athletics federation, not an independent body, does the testing.

Like Japan, Jamaica not only did no blood or biological passport tests last year but their only out-of-competition test was five months before the Olympics.

Ethiopia didn't even figure in WADA's 2012 figures because they had no national testing system at the time. Kenya did 44 urine tests (100 less than Ireland) and all were in-competition.

Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan were part of six countries then governed by a combined regional anti-doping agency called 'Africa Zone 5' bit it only did 11 out-of-competiton tests in 2012.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) does carry out supplementary testing and last year targeted 81 Russian athletes, 74 Kenyans, 43 apiece from Ethiopians and Americans, 19 apiece from Jamaica and Ukraine and 18 from Turkey.

But Cuddihy suspects that many of the IAAF tests were close to or during competitions, which is far less likely to catch cheats.

With two daughters (Joanne and Caitriona) who have run for Ireland, he understands why Irish athletes will be infuriated by the glaring inconsistencies in anti-doping worldwide.

But he says the ISC's particularly strict system "protects and stands over our athletes' reputations."

"Our system means that when someone like Robert Heffernan does well internationally we can believe his performances, his reputation cannot be impugned – whereas, given testing systems elsewhere, there is a lot of understandable cynicism out there."

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