The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced a one-year postponement for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, is also casting a large shadow over global anti-doping measures.
With tournament cancellations and the difficulty of performing unannounced out-of-competition inspections due to movement restrictions, drug testing is no longer performed as it had been. To protect fairness, new attempts are being made in the United States to remotely collect blood and urine samples with the help of video technology.
"It is such a blatantly obvious advantage — to those who see sport just as a way of winning at all costs and making money, this is a gift," a British race walker told The Times, of the drug testing disruptions caused by the health crisis.
Inspectors have been restricted from visiting athletes' homes and camps, and forced to suspend inspections in Russia and Canada.
World Anti-Doping Agency President Witold Banka acknowledges his organization is facing a challenge, while the United States Anti-Doping Agency has been running remote testing trials that do not require human contact. According to the Associated Press, the inspector will instruct and monitor the procedure using video web applications.
In order to simplify blood collection by athletes themselves, WADA is trying out a dry blood spot test that takes a small amount of blood from the fingertip. Fifteen top athletes such as six-time Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Allyson Felix are cooperating as test subjects in the rush to put the technology into practical use.
The Olympic postponement has also opened the door for offenders who otherwise would not have been able to compete this year. It is expected that nearly 40 of approximately 200 banned track athletes will be reinstated in time to compete in next year's Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on July 23.
Former Olympian and 100-meter men's backstroke world champion Junya Koga will ostensibly be able to qualify for next year's Olympics. He was suspended until May 14 this year for unintentionally ingesting a banned substance, which would have prevented him from qualifying through Japan's national championships this month. But the nationals were canceled and Japan's Olympic swimming qualification is now set for April 2021.
The International Olympic Committee has explained that drug suspensions are set by duration and event specific. Under WADA's current rules it will be difficult to exclude some athletes who would have been banned in 2020 from competing when the Tokyo Games finally take place in 2021.
The IOC has pointed out that there will be time to establish a new inspection method by next summer, while World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has issued a warning in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
"Nobody should run away with the idea that there is no testing taking place at all," Coe said. "It is. I want to send a very clear message to the athletes — do not sit there thinking that this is a test-free zone. It isn't. If you choose to step outside the integrity of our sport, you will get caught."
Even so, it is hard to see how IOC President Thomas Bach's optimism that the Tokyo Olympics will be the cleanest in history will be justified.
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