Experts fear Tokyo Games could be haven for drug cheats
Anti-doping experts from around the world are warning the Tokyo Olympics - if they go ahead this year - could be infested by drug cheats taking advantage of the forced cutbacks to pre-competition tests during the coronavirus crisis.
While Australia's Olympic hopefuls are still being heavily tested in the countdown to the Olympics, other countries, including China, have either stopped or scaled back their drug-catching programs because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Alarmed anti-doping officials are now calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed, saying the integrity of the Games has been compromised because the loophole will allow rogue athletes and countries to use performance enhancing drugs without being detected.
"It opens up a whole world of opportunities for the unscrupulous to cheat, even more so than usual," former Australian anti-doping chief Richard Ings told News Corp.
"I think it should stop, all sport is stopping, all training is stopping, all Olympic trials are stopping, all competitions are stopping.
"Forget it. Let's write this year off and let everyone be protected, safe and healthy. Let's come back in 2021."
While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains adamant it's business as usual and the Olympics will take place as scheduled, the head of the United States anti-doping agency Travis Tygart told News Corp the games should be cancelled until proper drug testing resumes.
"Let's hope those atop the IOC who in the past have seemingly no problem with the Olympic Games being tainted by doping as in Sochi, London and Rio give clean athletes' rights the weight they deserve when ultimately deciding to proceed or not," Tygart said.
"While the IOC leaders may be fine with no tests for 1913 athletes from 10 high risk sports in the months leading into Rio, clean athletes were burned and they don't want to see a repeat in Tokyo."
The US is among the rapidly growing list of countries that has been forced to reduce their drug testing levels because of social distancing regulations imposed to try and slow the spread of the deadly virus.
With Olympic trials, warm-up events and even some regular training camps currently on hold for the foreseeable future, USADA's traditional pre-Games testing blitz is being substituted by "mission-critical" testing of athletes in sports still competing, or preparing for Tokyo.
Effective immediately, Doping Control Officers (DCOs) will be required to wear personal protective gear, including masks and gloves, and maintain a distance of almost two metres from athletes while carrying out testing procedures.
UK Anti-doping has announced it has also reluctantly slashed its number of tests to ensure the protection and wellbeing of everyone involved in the procedures.
"This is a difficult decision and one that has not been taken lightly. Our priority is the
health and welfare of athletes, and our own staff and doping control officers," UK Anti-Doping Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead said.
"As an organisation our ongoing responsibility remains to protect clean sport, but we
must give precedence to health and welfare and act responsibly in line with
government advice during this unprecedented time."
Just weeks after winning a landmark appeal that saw disgraced Chinese swimmer Sun Yang banned for eight years, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said that while health and safety issues would be given top priority, it also planned to closely monitor testing levels to ensure there were no 'gaps' or breaches in doping protocols.
This follows WADA's intervention earlier this year when China's national anti doping agency CHINADA briefly halted testing during the worst of the outbreak in the epicentre Wuhan, where more than 3,000 people died.
WADA wrote to International Federations and foreign anti-doping organisations (ADOs) at the time asking them to target test Chinese athletes competing or training outside of their homeland China and said the same instructions will apply to all countries caught up in the unfolding global crisis.
"WADA will closely monitor testing activity in all regions affected by COVID-19 to detect any possible testing 'gaps' that may need to be addressed," WADA said.
"If it is determined that there has been an absence or diminished level of testing on athletes in areas of higher risk, this information will be conveyed on to the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, as well as any other ADO with a major event in the coming months, which would benefit from such information to adjust their testing programs accordingly."