Coronavirus Pandemic Hobbles World Antidoping Efforts

Collectors of biological samples can’t do their work in the expanding global lockdown, making it difficult to carry out effective antidoping programs.

By Matthew Futterman

For athletes inclined to cheat with performance-enhancing drugs, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented an extraordinary opportunity: Enforcers for the time being are not going to knock on their doors demanding a urine or blood sample.

Nearly every day in normal times, an antidoping official may be crossing borders, seeking a world-class athlete to submit a sample, while other officials are gathering intelligence, meeting with whistle blowers or working in labs to try to find testing techniques that will put them one step ahead of the cheaters.

These are not normal times.

Much of that work has ground to a halt in countries that have locked down, urging citizens to stay at home and avoid close contact with other people. This has prevented the antidoping authorities from pursuing one of the most effective deterrents — testing athletes when they are not competing and cannot predict the timing of a drug test.

“It’s why we run year-round, out-of-competition testing programs,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. “Covid-19 has put a serious strain on antidoping. We’d be foolish to think some weren’t out there doing their best to exploit it so they have a better opportunity when this eventually passes.”

Unscrupulous athletes generally take performance-enhancing drugs while training, to test their effectiveness and to get a leg up months before a competition.

On Friday, Tygart said that a hiatus for antidoping regulators could be expected to last several weeks and that the pause could wreak havoc on efforts to control illicit performance enhancement.

Athletes tempted to experiment with performance-enhancing drugs now could have a window of opportunity to do so. Reports from Australia on Monday that two officials from that country’s antidoping agency had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, highlighted the potential complications of resuming testing that is a regular part of an elite athlete’s life.

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