Bloomberg News

Anti-Doping Chief Calls for More Blood Testing to Catch ‘Cheats’

March 22, 2012

Athletes using performance- enhancing drugs such as human growth hormone are “getting away with it” because not enough blood testing is being done, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency said.

In 2010, WADA accredited laboratories analyzed 258,267 samples taken from in- and out-of-competition testing worldwide. Out of that amount, “effectively only 5,000” were blood samples, WADA president John Fahey said in an interview in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the doping agency has a regional office. The rest of the testing was done on urine samples.

In 2010, there were only 3 positive cases of human growth hormone (HGH), according to statistics on the WADA website. HGH can only be detected in blood.

“What we’re seeing happening is another disappointment to us,” Fahey said. “Sports generally are not spending enough on anti-doping agencies and not putting enough blood testing forward. That being the case, I suspect HGH cheats are getting away with it. What is an effective and robust program? It’s a hell of a lot more than 2 percent of the samples being blood samples. It’s probably got to be 15 percent, or maybe 20 percent blood samples to be effective.”

In September, WADA’s executive committee recommended that all anti-doping organizations ensure that “no less than 10 percent of all samples collected were blood specimens.”

HGH is considered a performance-enhancing drug because of its ability to grow muscle and aid recovery after training, while not being detectable in urine, unlike anabolic steroids. A test for HGH was first introduced at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

More Intrusive

Fahey said not enough blood testing is being done partly because it is “more intrusive” on the athletes as it involves having a needle being put in their arm. It’s also more expensive at the laboratory, he added. Unlike urine, blood samples have to be cooled when being transported which can double the costs.

U.K. Anti-Doping, which is responsible for implementing and monitoring the country’s drug-testing program, is on target to analyze 10 percent of more than 7,000 tests from blood samples, spokeswoman Nicola Newman said in an email.

“The type of test is increasingly driven by intelligence and science,” Newman said.

In 2009, former Great Britain rugby league player Terry Newton became the first athlete to test positive for HGH. He was given a two-year ban from the sport in February 2010, and died seven months later. Newton was found hanged at his home in Greater Manchester, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported at the time.

Fahey, a former finance minister in his native Australia, praised cycling as a sport that does a lot of blood testing.

Deal With Problem

“Cycling had a very bad record going back ten years or so ago,” Fahey said. “They have at least stopped denying the problem, and worked with a program to deal with the problem.”

Last month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador’s claim that he failed a drug test because he consumed a contaminated steak, and banned him for two years. Contador was also stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title, just like American cyclist Floyd Landis in 2006.

Last year, the UCI Antidoping Foundation conducted 13,057 drug tests in cycling, of which 5,154 were done on blood samples according to statistics provided by the International Cycling Union. All professional cyclists now have a biological passport, which is an individual, electronic record of the results of all doping tests over a period of time.

WADA is working on a more sophisticated test that can detect HGH even if it is used “many days” before a sample is taken, Fahey said. He declined to say when it would be introduced, in order not to alert potential offenders.

WADA was founded in 1999 as an international independent agency, funded by governments and the International Olympic Committee. The group monitors the World Anti-Doping Code, which knits together anti-doping policies of countries around the world.

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh at the London sports desk on drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.


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