The president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), John Fahey, has claimed that athletes using banned substances such as human growth hormone (HGH) are “getting away with it” due to insufficient use of blood testing. He singled out cycling as a sport that was taking serious measures to catch dopers due to the extent of testing taking place, although the inference to be drawn is that some other sports lag well behind.
Speaking to Bloomberg News, Mr Fahey said that out of 258,267 tests performed by WADA-accredited laboratories in 2010 on samples taken from athletes in both in- and out-of-competition tests, “effectively only 5,000” were carried out on blood samples, the remainder of the tests being carried out on urine.
As a result, Mr Fahey believes that athletes using HGH to gain an illegal edge over the competition are not being caught – the substance can be traced in blood, but not urine, samples. During the year, there were only three positive cases involving it.
“What we’re seeing happening is another disappointment to us,” he commented. “Sports generally are not spending enough on anti-doping agencies and not putting enough blood testing forward. That being the case, I suspect HGH cheats are getting away with it.
“What is an effective and robust program? It’s a hell of a lot more than 2 percent of the samples being blood samples. It’s probably got to be 15 percent, or maybe 20 percent blood samples to be effective.”
Last September, WADA’s executive committee made a recommendation to anti-doping organisations around the world that “no less than 10 percent of all samples collected were blood specimens,” although Fahey acknowledges that costs are higher compared to urine tests and that the use of needles to collect samples is “more intrusive” on competitors.
Mr Fahey revealed that WADA is looking to devise a test for HGH that can discover whether it has been used even “many days” before the sample was provided, although he would not be drawn into saying when that might be introduced so as not to alert the cheats.
A spokeswoman for UK Anti-Doping told Bloomberg that the agency was on track to comply with the request of at least 10 per cent of the 7,000 tests it conducts annually being on blood samples, adding, “The type of test is increasingly driven by intelligence and science.”
The UK was the first country in which an athlete tested positive for HGH, with the former Great Britain rugby league player Terry Newton was given a two-year ban after failing a test in 2009. He subsequently took his own life.
The WADA president singled out cycling as a sport that was making serious efforts to tackle the drug cheats. “Cycling had a very bad record going back ten years or so ago,” he acknowledged. “They have at least stopped denying the problem, and worked with a programme to deal with the problem.”
According to the UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) Business Report for 2010-2011, released last month, during 2011 a minimum of 13,057 tests were performed on riders, 5,154 on blood samples.
While that relates to a different period than the figures outlined by Mr Fahey, and excludes 600 tests prior to the three Grand Tours as well as some races for which samples were still being collected and analysed, the inference to be drawn is that there is minimal blood testing taking place in other sports.
In tennis, for example, according to the International Tennis Federation, during 2011 a total of 2,150 samples were taken from male and female players, of which 6 per cent were blood tests. The vast majority of tests were conducted in competition, with just under 10 per cent of tests taken out of competition.
Commenting on the CADF report last month, UCI President Pat McQuaid said: “This shows the quality of the work that is being done in this area. The UCI anti-doping programme has become a worldwide reference in the medical and prevention sector and it allows us to now target and catch those who cheat. We will continue to invest in this area to ensure our sport stays safe, clean and fair”.
News earlier this week that law enforcement agencies in Spain had arrested ten people, including the former Xacobeo-Galicia team doctor Alberto Beltrán Niño, in connection with an alleged doping ring that is believed to have distributed products including next generation “superdrug” AICAR shows that the battle is far from won, however.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.