The build-up to the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, at the end of the month has been surrounded by mass hype, leading to an advanced method in doping control. In the 13th year of the Championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have developed a meticulous form of ensuring all athletes competing will be drug-free. Instead of the typical urine testing, the 2,000 competing athletes will also be blood tested (similar to Tour De France testing methods), with all samples sent to a specialist lab in Switzerland. Athletes were not informed of the new anti-doping regulations prior to the entry deadline being closed; which deters organised cheating. The tests will commence from August 18 in a purpose-built doping control station which is located in the Athletes’ village and, after analysis, the results will be collected to produce biological passports for individual athletes.
The controversial anti-doping programme, enforced by IAAF, raises numerous ethical and pragmatic questions. Whilst it benefits those athletes who are hard-workers whose efforts are perhaps overlooked, the tests are viewed by some as morally unjust with a draconian system which fails to highlight each athlete as an individual with specific needs – such as the marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, who is required to take medication for her asthma, or the varying hormone levels that exist in each athlete.
There are many who agree with the strict system including former Olympic 400m bronze medallist, Katharine Merry, who, in light of the 2011 Olympics, expressed via Twitter that “London needs to agree to the same strict blood-testing procedure as Daegu” and has reflected the common scepticism that many feel about the integrity of some prospective competitors. “[It] will be interesting to see if athletes withdraw from Daegu…” she said. Yet the magnitude of the tests and the mass precision involved prompts doubts over whether this will be cost-effective and, even an entirely effective, new technology.
There is the on-going dilemma of whether tests such as these are all part of a controlling regime which has exploited the concerns of citizens who feel unsafe in their society – the proposal of the ID card scheme by the Labour government suggests a similar invasion of privacy. The recent revelations of world-class athletes’ doping also suggests that, whilst anti-doping tests are an efficient method of monitoring fair-play, the mass system that will take place nine days prior to the World Championships are questionable in their effectiveness and may end up backfiring on the IAAF.
One of the athletes caught out recently is Jamaican 200m champion, Steve Mullings. The 28-year-old, who is currently the third fastest man at 100m sprint, had a drug-masking agent detected in his body – a substance used to disguise banned substances or illegal drugs.
The participation of US’s Mike Rodgers, who competes in the same categories as Mullings, is also in doubt after he was tested positive for a banned stimulant. Rodgers’ agent, Mike Campbell, claims that the fourth fastest man in the world this year accidentally consumed an energy drink. Back in 2008 Rodgers told reporters in reference to doping-convicted Dwain Chambers: “If I beat him it will be a more powerful thing for me because I would have beaten a dirty athlete”. The athlete will be hoping that his jibes won’t come back to bite him later this month.
Just two weeks before the World Championships, the revelation of two highly influential athletes involved in foul-play is ground breaking and leaves many questioning the outcome of the upcoming drugs trials. With the England Athletics U17 and U15 Athletics Championships quickly following the tests, there remains the devastating issue of the amount of young hopefuls and their role-models who will have their dreams severely dashed in an undoubtedly revelatory anti-doping results announcement.