Tokyo 2020: Covid triggered shocking drop in drug testing for Olympic hopefuls


Between 800 and 1,400 aspiring Olympians avoided getting caught for doping last year due to a huge drop in drug testing during the Covid-19 pandemic, analysis exclusively for Sunday mail shows.

While it is not known how many people subsequently qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and will appear at the delayed 2020 Games which start on Friday, it is certain that the global health emergency has given cheaters a boost. when it comes to drugs.

The shocking numbers are based on detailed models that take into account not only how the world’s leading drug tests fell from 306,000 tests in 2019 to 168,000 last year, but also precise patterns. and consistent adverse results in specific sports over a number of years.

Perhaps the most striking illustration of how Covid licensed to cheat athletes prepared to compete in a corrupt fashion came in April of last year.

In a “typical” month of April, around 25,000 drug tests are done around the world, with around 1% of those tests positive, or 250 cheaters exposed.

Between 800 and 1,400 aspiring Olympians avoided getting caught for doping during Covid

In April 2020, when 33 countries in Europe alone ceased all testing and much of the rest of the planet followed suit, only 578 tests took place globally, with just a handful of doping drugs. captured.

“As the primary approach taken to detecting doping in sport is through in-competition and out-of-competition drug testing, doping may well go undetected during the pandemic,” said Sue Backhouse, professor of psychology and health. nutrition at Leeds Beckett University, where she leads the Sports Integrity Team.

“A reduced threat of detection, combined with an Olympic year with medals in sight, heightens the risk of doping. Research at Leeds Beckett University found that athletes seemed more willing to dope if they suffered an injury, a drop in performance, or thought others were doping and doing fine.

Professor Backhouse pointed out that a lack of testing during the pandemic could hurt athletes who excel in Tokyo.

Coronavirus pandemic has seen dramatic drop in doping tests performed by athletes

Coronavirus pandemic has seen dramatic drop in doping tests performed by athletes

In April 2020, 578 tests took place worldwide, compared to 25,000 normal tests carried out

In April 2020, 578 tests took place worldwide, compared to 25,000 normal tests carried out

“A stunning performance will likely be met with skepticism due to the lack of doping control during the pandemic,” she said.

The MoS figures for runaway dopers are based on around 140,000 tests that “should” have taken place – and included the number that would normally have been in Olympic sports. They also consider below-average positive rates for Olympic sports in normal times and a small degree of ‘weighting’ which predicts that some potential cheaters are more likely to cheat knowing they are less likely to get caught as the tests are drying up.

David Howman, president of the Athletic Integrity Unit, told the Australian newspaper that the likelihood of catching potential cheaters has been partly left to chance. “You still have to think that those who like to take these (cheating) shortcuts would have done it and you have to keep your fingers crossed and hope those who did are going to be taken,” said Howman, the former chief of staff. the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Monumental drop in testing could lead to unfair results at this summer's Olympics

Monumental drop in testing could lead to unfair results at this summer’s Olympics

In late March last year in Jamaica, the local anti-doping agency JADCO initially suspended all drug testing for a week, with an indefinite suspension added from April to June and no return to regular levels until October.

A global poll of 685 elite track and field athletes around this time found that 78% of them feared cheaters would thrive because of less testing, but JADCO President Alexander Williams has publicly said that he did not know any Jamaican concerned.

All doping controls were suspended by the Russian anti-doping body RUSADA on March 27 last year, then extended until the summer.

All testing in China was “temporarily” suspended from February before a “phased reintroduction” later in the spring. UKAD in Britain initially said testing would continue normally, but then ran at around 6% of normal numbers through spring, with 124 tests in April, May and June 2020 combined up from 2,017 during the same period in 2019.

Countries like Russia, Jamaica and China have suspended doping tests for long periods during Covid

Countries like Russia, Jamaica and China have suspended doping tests for long periods during Covid

The American anti-doping agency, USADA, has also declined.

Personalities working in the anti-doping community fear that the “concerned nations” have done little to change the perception that they are more lax than their rivals when it comes to testing.

These countries include Kenya, Ethiopia, Belarus, Ukraine, Morocco, Nigeria, Bahrain, Jamaica, Russia and Brazil, while some sports, including swimming, have been “poorly adapted” recent challenges.

A full breakdown of 2020 testing by sport and nation and governing body will only be available later this year – once the Games are over.


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