Doping Tests Are Returning, but It Might Be Too Late


Tygart said he saw all of this as something of victory, since studies of doping prevalence from the past decade have recorded anonymous admissions of guilt from as many as 40 percent of respondents.

While the athletes in the USADA study admitted to far lower levels of doping, they expressed deep skepticism that their rivals were abiding by the rules. More than 50 percent said they believed international athletes had used the lull in testing caused by the pandemic as a doping opportunity, and 30 percent said they suspected American athletes had done so.

“Without testing, the confidence in the system goes way down,” Tygart said.

And the temptation remains. Just 42 percent of those surveyed said integrity in sports was more important than financial gain.

James Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the World Antidoping Agency, said testing numbers had been on the rise since May, though they still remain far behind last year’s figures, in part because so many competitions, where a lot of testing occurs, had been canceled. In September, 17,643 tests were conducted, compared with 26,638 during that month in 2019.

Fitzgerald said national and regional antidoping organizations were doing their best while adhering to limits the local health authorities have placed on their activities. But he added that WADA does have other tools.

“While testing is important as a means to catch cheats and as a deterrent, it is not the only strategy available,” Fitzgerald said. “There are other angles of attack being pursued, which include intelligence and investigations, technology and research, sample storage and re-analysis, and the Athlete Biological Passport,” which can track dramatic changes in blood and hormone levels over time.

The damage to sporting integrity, though, may be done already. Studies have shown that even one cycle of performance-enhancing drugs that quickly leave the body can produce benefits that last as long as four years. That would certainly make a cycle that took place last spring beneficial at the Olympics next summer, or the Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022.


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