The global governing body of athletics is to abandon its policy of blood-testing every athlete during the upcoming world championships in Beijing, the Guardian has learned,with only a third of competitors due to have a sample taken and scrutinised.
The International Association of Athletics Federations insists it has simply introduced a better system that will target elite athletes though urine testing remains the same, but its decision is causing consternation among some competitors. At the previous two world championships in Daegu in 2011 and Moscow in 2013 every athlete had a blood sample taken.
Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin stripped of Olympic 1500m title for doping
The decision to scale back on testing could be seen as a major public own goal by the IAAF, given concerns about how widespread the problem of performance-enhancing substance abuse is in the sport.
However, the IAAF said it was not going soft on doping but had instead switched its focus to target testing around 600-700 specific athletes rather than mass screening the expected 1,900 competitors in Beijing. It also pointed out that its “core testing” for the world championships had started six months ago and that it was stepping up its use of more sophisticated testing methods in order to catch the cheats.
The change in policy has come to light against a backdrop of hugely damaging revelations for athletics that includes claims that a third of medals in endurance events at Olympics and world championships between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes with suspicious blood values.
Last week 28 athletes from the 2005 and 2007 world championships were banned after their samples were tested, while on Monday the London 2012 Olympic 1500m champion Asli Cakir Alptekin was stripped of her gold medal and given an eight-year ban after abnormal values were found in her blood samples.
The revelations are likely to intensify the pressure on the International Association of Athletics Federations, which is due to elect either Sebastian Coe or Sergei Bubka as its new president in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The IAAF had previously refused to reveal how many athletes it would test at the championships, claiming that “in order to maintain the integrity of the programme, the IAAF doesn’t disclose its actual testing programme for the event”. However, after confirming its approach to the Guardian the body moved to defend itself.
In a statement it said: “The most important time to be testing many of the athletes is during the off-season when the heavy training loads are taking place. That approach is no secret – but it is often easier for sports to simply pile on the tests during the event itself and claim a successful anti-doping programme.
“The reality is far from it. The testing in Beijing is important – but nowhere near as important as a truly non-notice out-of-competition (OOC) programme conducted during the preceding six months or longer.”
When asked specifically why the federation was scaling back on blood testing in Beijing, an IAAF spokesman said that in the previous championships it had collected a blood sample from every athlete because “it was establishing the athlete biological passport in athletics with a specific interest in establishing population-based reference values”.