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Do more tests lead to cleaner Games?

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David Bond | 19:18 UK time, Thursday, 19 January 2012

There will be 5,000 drugs tests at the London 2012 Olympics - a 10% increase from Beijing 2008 and more than any previous Games.

Professor David Cowan, the man in charge of the new £10million state of the art lab in Harlow, Essex, says they will be able to test for the broadest possible range of banned substances.

But are more tests necessarily the answer in the battle for sporting integrity?

In Athens in 2004 there were 26 positive tests from 3,667 samples collected. Four years later the tests went up to 4,770 but the number of positives went down to 20.

During the world athletics championships in Daegu last summer every athlete was tested but - and this still seems incredible to me - there wasn't a single positive test returned.

Like crime statistics, does the trend for less positive tests during competition reflect how sport is getting cleaner? Or - and I suspect this is the right answer - is it evidence that athletes are getting smarter and not risking putting anything illegal in their systems during the big events?

Then there is the question of how you test for something like blood doping where athletes take out their own blood, store it and then inject it back into their bloodstream to boost their red blood cell count and, in turn, their body's oxygen carrying capacity.

This increases stamina and performance but if the only indicator is a raised level of red blood cells then how are the testers to know if anything illegal has been going on?

Dwain Chambers (right) could still compete at the London 2012 Olympics after his drugs ban. Photo: AP

Scientists like Prof Cowan say the only way is for more sports to join athletics, swimming, cycling and rowing by making athletes carry their own biometric passport. Then testers will know how to spot anything abnormal.

For the IOC president Jacques Rogge there is a lot at stake with the London Games. The IOC's defeat in the Lashawn Merritt case last year was a major blow in the fight against the cheats.

The IOC's rule 45 previously banned any athlete guilty of a serious drugs offence from the next Olympics - even if they had served their ban by the time of the Games. But the Court of Arbitration for Sport forced the IOC to scrap that rule allowing Merritt and others to compete in London.

The British Olympic Association's own lifetime ban for serious drugs offenders faces the same fate when its own case is heard by the same court in March.

If the BOA has to abandon its treasured bylaw then, once again, it will send a signal that the movement is going soft on drugs just on the eve of the Games.

And no matter how many tests you do, it might be difficult for organisers to shake that impression.


  • Comment number 1.

    Would it be possible to allow athletes and others to enter the Olympics as an "independent", as long as they reached a qualifying mark? That way, Mr. Chambers could enter the Olympics, so he and the CAS would be happy, but he wouldn't be representing his country. Team GB wouldn't have to pay for him or prevent another athlete from taking part, and could maintain their zero tolerance policy. Plus, everyone watching would know all of this. Tougher in team sports like the cycling road race, where though all entrants are technically in as individuals, they are usually supporting one of their team-mates to victory.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dwain Chambers should just hawk himself to Palau or Tokelau - didn't Wilson Kipkeeta [sp] run for Denmark a while back simply for additional cash.

    Whilst you're at banning drugs how about making sure everyone in the Olympics has to use the same kit e.g. the same boats, bikes, trainers, weights etc. Not safety kit obviously as that's needs an element of fitted to person - but make it down to the person and not the kit.

  • Comment number 3.

    Nice article Mr Bond. I do admire your optimism that athletes are not putting anything illegal into their system but I very much doubt this assertion. I think that athletes are getting smarter about how to avoid being tested positive. Just look at the physical makeup of short distance runners, there is absolutely no way that they can do what they can without steroids. Having trained in many gyms for many years now, I can recognise people that take steroids from the ones that do not and I would say that many short distance runners do take some form of enhancers. Look at the physiques of people like Carmelita Jetter and even our own Harry come on and be realistic...tell me that that is all natural. No way! Athletes will always be one step ahead of the testers in avoiding being caught.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'd like to think the war on drugs cheats just stepped up a gear. But the cynic in me says there's probably more blood doping going on. British Rowing is the lone sport with an automatic lifetime ban for proven drugs cheats. Won't that rule help more than letting them compete?

    I'm also concerned a BBC journalist uses the word 'less' when he means 'fewer'. "does the trend for less positive tests ...." Standards are dropping!

  • Comment number 5.

    Personally I think the Olympics is boring and a waste of money however I would welcome an Olympics where drug taking was allowed. Imagine the mens 100m final being completed in 4seconds with smoke and flames trailing from the runners trainers or javelins being thrown up to a mile away by huge steroid pumped nutcases. In it's current format you are always left wondering if the winner cheated or not. This way there would be no question of cheating and an entertaining if not slightly freakish games for all to enjoy!!

  • Comment number 6.

    There's a simple description of athletes who don't dope in some shape or form. "Unheard of". The ones who get caught are the ones dumb enough to juice during an event and who try to skimp on the chemist bills. How do I know? Now that would be telling...

  • Comment number 7.

    @ grandfalconrailroad

    Wilson Kipketer was Danish when he ran for Denmark (and still is). Chambers is not Danish and so can not compete for Denmark.

  • Comment number 8.

    Only way to catch the cheats is out-of-season blood tests. In-competition urine testing is useless and everyone knows it. There is no way that out-of-season blood tests will happen because the results would be like it has been in cycling - ruination and total discrediting of the sport (but at east cycling is now clean, even if the times are massively slower now than they were 10 years ago). By not blood testing out of season, there is effectively no testing and I will not even bother watching the olympics because I don't believe any of it.

  • Comment number 9.

    More tests arent necesarrily the answer, although they may help.

    The answer is better tests - to to be able to detect the more advanced forms of doping. And if possible, no news being released of a new test being developed - to try to catch any cheats out!


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