Sunday, September 9, 2012

"The Fallacy of In-Competition Testing" (Update #1)

If you ever needed proof that we don't learn from history, let me share a quote with you:
...In-competition testing gives the athletes ample warning to allow them to circumvent drug testing by other means than simply allowing for clearance times.  

Despite knowing the fallacy of in-competition testing, as they have for many years, the medical commissions, of sport organizations such as the IAAF and the IOC have taken no steps to make the fallacy more widely known. By failing to do so they have given the impression that their competitions are fair and that the laboratories cannot be fooled.
Guess what? The statement was written in 1990 as part of Canada's "Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance" (the "Dubin Inquiry"), which came about from Ben Johnson's positive test at the Seoul Olympics. I recently discovered that the entire report is available online (here). I'll be posting additional quotes over the next few days. The passage above is located on page 397.

Update #1

Not that we needed additional evidence of the poor state of tennis journalism, but this is inappropriate. Is not anyone aware of conflicts of interest (real or apparent)?


33 comments:

  1. Furthermore, ITF testing decreased last year and they finished the year under budget. It seems like the fourth quarter would be a good time to do out-of-competition testing, you know those last few months of the year when nobody is competing (and Conte and others have claimed is a key "training" period for athletes building for the coming season). The funding was obviously there. Instead, the ITF goes to conduct a test on October 26 and doesn't collect a sample; they obviously never went back, and there were a smattering of other players with no OOC tests for 2011. How about look at your testing history and go after a few people late in the year who have one or two missed tests in the last 18 months and use that excess budget effectively?

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    1. That makes too much sense, therefore it will never be adopted by the ITF.

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  2. Off topic, but the Tyler Hamilton book makes me wonder whether all the testimony from the dropped Armstrong case can be made availble under the Freedom of Information Act. I understand Sheryl Crow was a star witness...

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    1. USADA announced that they will disclose the evidence: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/lancearmstrong/9497101/Evidence-against-Lance-Armstrong-will-be-disclosed-by-USADA-as-they-aim-to-strip-Tour-titles-and-ban-for-life.html

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    2. This is very much par for the course.

      USADA needs to provide the full evidentiary brief to any stakeholders that have a right of appeal. This includes WADA (who likely already have the brief as they were a partner with USADA in bringing the case) and UCI.

      LA has waived his right to appeal so I doubt he would get a brief (I am sure he has already been sent much of the detail anyway in the charge letter).

      Stakeholders then have like 30 days to lodge any appeal with CAS. But UCI has been reported as saying they will not be appealing.

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  3. I know certain reporters have their "pet" athletes and some reporters and athletes are too close for comfort (in terms of the reporter becoming a friend of the athlete and refusing to say anything bad about them no matter what they did/do: Ex: Sally Jenkins and Lance Armstrong), but tennis is the only sport I'm aware of where the media absolutely kowtows to the players and does everything possible not to upset the star players.

    The "clubbiness" that exists in tennis makes it impossible for them to ask the tough questions that need to be asked in this sport, especially regarding doping controls/tests.

    That's why it is shocking, to me at least, when someone breaks ranks and actually asks a tough question of a tennis player (ie: the Errani doping questions at her presser after her victories over Kerber and Vinci).

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    1. The mainstream tennis media really are there to cover the competition. They are there week in and week out and are your classic locker room sport reporter type.

      Some of the day to day tennis journo's are up for asking a question like this but in reality the players never answer, or fob it off, or give some spin or worse blackball the journo. And without evidence there is nowhere for the journo to go. So they gain nothing and lose lots.

      Witness the press conference of Tomic to see what players do with tennis journo's that pose the tough question. And this was not even that tough. Section to look at starts at 4:35.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tug6XxzgK0Q

      When you get to the Slams you have an influx of journo's such as feature and investigative types that don't cover tennis as such but have been assigned to the Slam. These are the journos more likely to ask the probing question on this topic as they don't have their access to players threatened by asking the tough question.


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    2. Richard Ings: do you really need to explain that before they understand that journalists can't damage the sport they are covering by making accusations they have no proof of?

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    3. @Eric Ed:

      Yawn. You again?

      The main crux of my question is that where facts are KNOWN - in the case of Sara Errani working with Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral; no one was asking her about him until recently. Same as no one is asking David Ferrer about his association with him.

      If someone is working with a known doping doctor I think that player should expect to be asked about that. The journalists knew this and either couldn't or wouldn't ask the questions, whether out of fear or laziness.

      Obviously you missed the post where Richard Ings called out several journalists for NOT asking about Errani's relationship with Dr. del Moral.

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    4. Errani was asked questions at the US Open about her relationship with Dr Moral.

      These were good questions based on available facts. But nothing much came out of it of course.

      I was just pointing out above the mechanics of how tennis journo's cover the sport.

      It is disappointing the actions of players like Tomic in this interview. But I certainly am aware of politicians who refuse to speak to certain journalists who they feel don't give them fair (in the politicians opinion) coverage. That is just life.

      Basically no athlete is going to stumble and admit wrong doing in a press conference like this. Journalists have to wear out some shoe leather, get some hard evidence, and hit the athlete with that evidence before anything really comes out of a press conference like this.

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    5. Thanks for your responses here Mr. Ings. I do appreciate your contributions here - it just always seemed to me that most tennis journalists (and I certainly don't indict everyone) seem afraid or unconcerned enough to do the legwork required to get to the bottom of stories.

      I know Errani was asked about del Moral at the U.S. Open, and I found her answers weird and unsatisfying. I knew she wasn't going to come out and say she did anything wrong but follow-ups needed to be done especially since her statements contradicted previous ones and ones that her brother made

      I know that a tennis player isn't going to come out and admit that they dope or name names in a press conference, but I do think that more probing questions can be asked of them, even if it is general questions about testing, or doping in tennis overall. Obviously, though, there needs to be more investigative reporting done in this field.

      Do you think that if any expose ever came out about doping in tennis that it would be a tennis journalist doing it or an investigative reporter (along the lines of Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada who weren't necessarily sports reporters but investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle - they were the ones who uncovered the BALCO scandal) who had suspicions and wanted to do the legwork to report on it?

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    6. Hi Seeya. Thanks for your very balanced and respectful input on this blog. Such contributions are appreciated by one and all. We don't all have to agree. We all just need to respect differing views. And you do. Thanks.

      In answer to your question I believe that an investigative reporter is more likely to be able to develop a story such as you point out. The reason being, that is what investigative reporters do. They also are given the time and resources by their editors to develop such stories. For example it may take criss crossing the country, or the globe, talking to various people from sport, law enforcement etc to build a story. And the day to day tennis journo's are mostly not setup by their editors to be able to do that. They cover the hitting of tennis balls each week and they do that extremely well.

      Now this is not saying that the day to day tennis journo's couldn't do such investigative work. I know many that could. And some that would be up for it. But they need to be released by their editors to do that and given resourcing to carry it out.

      So I would expect that the dedicated investigative reporters (and there are several of note) would have the way, the means and the time to dig into such questions if their editors thought there was a story there.

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    7. Richard, I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that first paragraph, but I want to make it abundantly clear that I respect your view and appreciate you answering questions. I raise a lot of issues and generally only engage you when I have at least a slightly different opinion. For the most part we agree on the big issues, but I just don't see much value in posting saying that I agree every time you post something that I agree with. I hope you don't feel like I'm constantly giving you a hard time.

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    8. Mrn your posts are fine. They get me thinking and you are right we are not too far apart. I was not referring to your very constructive posts at all. I was just making a general comment that was in no way prompted by you.

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    9. Seeya: If you're clever enough, you know that the reporters are not going to get any substantial information from either Errani or Ferrer. it is just common sense. I wasn't directly addressing that first comment to you. I thought about writing yesterday because I have read many complaints about journalists who failed to do their jobs instead of wondering how players are physically able to do what they are doing and make doping accusations. I always thought it was really naive to make such suggestions and I just used this opportunity to say it. I wasn't addressing it to you. I don't even remember your comments to begin with

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  4. The champagne tweet made me think of Agassi's last press conference at the Open. I don't remember who, but somebody at the time, made a big deal about how protocol was broken by clapping for him when he walked in to the presser. Doesn't seem quite so unusual now, does it?

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  5. Champagne? They would have settled for a tootsie pop and a 5 hour energy drink...

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  6. I have just seen some of the exchanges above and as a former journalist I would have to agree. Reporters who cover the day-to-day competition aren't going to research contentious issues and ask difficult questions. They are really part of the PR panoply of the sport. It therefore isn't surprising that Serena invites the press room to join her in her relentless love affair with herself.

    Questions that would reflect some of the concerns raised on this blog would require a journalist to be an outsider - he/she is not biting the hand that feeds them by taking on the tennis establishment.

    The critical point raised in this latest post is that for years the doping authorites have known that in-competition testing is largely window-dressing. Yet most of the public who follow sports think this sort of testing is effective. Only writers outside the mainstream are going to disabuse them of that. (And journalists don't need proof to ask tough questions - with proof the questions are redundant - all they need is facts or information that require explanation. We are waiting.)

    So, if in-competition testing doesn't really catch anyone, and we have very little out-of-competition testing (as in professional tennis) then what do we have? A doper's charter. Athletes doing what they know they can get away with - panic room aside.

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    1. Richard just to finesse your argument slightly, sports in the most part still believe that in-comp and OOC testing is effective. And that is the problem.

      The logic within that paradigm goes that if we test and you dope our testing will catch your doping so therefore logically you won't dope as you don't want to be caught.

      Clearly this is a nonsense belief by sports as testing, even comprehensive testing, even targeted testing, whether in comp or OOC, will not catch knowledgeable and careful dopers. Witness Marion and more recent matters to accept that it doesn't take much knowledge (just lots of discipline) for an athlete to dope and pass drug tests regularly.

      I had an expression in regard to testing that it was a tool that caught the athlete who was either ignorant (i.e not clever enough to beat the tests) or arrogant (i.e. too clever by half, pushing the envelope just a bit too much and making a mistake that opens them up for a positive test).

      That is the challenge in anti-doping. How do you stop doping when testing only scratches the surface of the number of athletes actually doping.

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  7. Mr. Ings,

    Thank you very much for your insightful and highly informative comments on this blog as well as for the instrumental role you've recently played in Errani actually getting asked a couple of tough questions at the US Open. As a result, some mainstream media sources unbelievably reported on Errani's link to del Moral, including the New York Times which has long had blinders on with regard to the issue of PEDs in tennis. I do hope that you carry on playing such a positive role. Could you now see about Ferrer, Nadal and Serena Williams being asked some hard questions?

    In your above post, you state that "even comprehensive testing, even targeted testing, whether in comp or OOC, will not catch knowledgeable and careful dopers." Why wouldn't it if it were genuinely well-targeted and out-of-competition? Is it because the players' hourlong testing slot provides them with more than enough time to flush PEDs out of their system and/or to microdose?

    Thanks again!

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    1. Yankalp that is a very generous post. I am happy to contribute in any way I can.

      And thanks for posing that question. It is an aspect of anti-doping that is not much understood and indeed is often ignored because it requires a real re-think of how to fight doping in sport.

      The issue is that there are substances and doping techniques that either have no test at all or the window of detection (that is the time between taking that banned substance and it clearing the body for testing purposes) is so short as to make testing irrelevant.

      Some substances with extremely short windows of detection include micro-dosing substances like testosterone (via testosterone patches which trickle the substance into the body), or using testosterone from animal based sources, or micro-dosing various versions of EPO or hGH. Then there are various techniques to boost red blood cell levels via autologous blood doping which can be detected but is a rarely conducted test.

      A knowledgeable doper can manipulate all these various substances in such a way to stack benefits while have no chance of being detected. And that is before designer doping substances like the Clear come into play.

      A simple example. Lets say an athlete is taking a substance that has a window of detection of 4 hours. IF the athlete takes the substance at 1am it will clear the body by 5am well ahead of the testers knocking on the door at 6am.

      These are the reasons why putting all eggs in the testing basket is great news for dopers. We need to augment testing with other anti-doping approaches to deter dopers.

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    2. Thank you very much for your lengthy and informative, as always, response. So, does what you've written mean that if, hypothetically, a professional athlete following a top doping program were to have a phony "panic-room" incident, that it might have just been practically like lightning having struck? That is, perhaps the athlete had made an extremely rare deviation from his or her normal doping program and, by sheer dumb luck, it was the one time a year (or every two years) that a doping control officer actually happened to show up? From an anti-doping perspective, would busting through out-of-competition testing an athlete who has top medical support be roughly the equivalent of winning a million dollars in the lottery?

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    3. Well firstly I do suspect that the panic room incident transpired something along the lines of what I have previously posted. I don't think the panic room incident was phoney at all but likely a response to an unauthorised entry to the premises. Which fits with the police being called and also fits with the sample not being collected. I think the DCO's were ordered off the premises by the police. That is far and away the most likely explanation.

      No I don't think the odds are akin to winning a million dollars in a lottery. The odds of a positive are not that bad. But they are pretty bad. Imagine if an athlete is tested monthly over a 10 year athletic career. That equals 120 tests. Marion was tested 160 clean. LA was tested 500 times clean.

      Which is why we can't solely rely on testing to stop doping.

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    4. Not to distract the discussion, but the Lance Armstrong "500 test" claim has pretty much been debunk:

      (1) He most likely got tested a little over 200 times (see http://www.cyclismas.com/2012/07/the-legend-of-the-500/); and

      (2) Armstrong tested positive in 1999 and also had a number of elevated T:E ratio tests (see http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/magazine/05/23/lance.armstrong/index.html)

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    5. Interesting analysis SEN. Makes sense. LA's reported 500 appears to be that old chestnut of counting a blood and urine test as separate tests. I know many a NADO and IF that does the same thing as it gives a bigger test number.

      But the bottom line is LA got tested allot.

      The elevated T/E's certainly are interesting but not conclusive before CAS of doping. You really need a positive IRMS for synthetic T to get across the line with CAS. There are thousands of elevated T/E's reported by abs each year world-wide and only a handful turn into CAS cases. IRMS is where the action is on T.

      And the 1999 positive was reported to be for cortisone which was a specified substance at the time when it was perfectly allowable in most sport to seek a retroactive TUE. So nothing special there. Indeed cortisone is not even banned anymore. From 2012 it has been placed on the WADA monitoring list I understand.

      But the EPO tests as reported are most interesting as they highlight the issue with players testing negative even though PED's are being used and the critical critical critical need to store correctly samples so as technology improves such samples can be retested.

      That ability to store and retest sample up to 8 years hence is far and away the biggest deterrent to doping in sport I feel. You will get caught eventually.

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  8. I think the ability of athletes to elude dection by anti-doping is well exemplified by the Dwain Chambers case. It was only after Chambers was busted for The Clear than he came clean on a doping programme that was based on a whole panoply of PED's which has eluded the testers.

    With regard to effective anti-doping, I'd like to ask Mr Ings why a sporting authority like the ITF doesn't simply go to someone like Victor Conte and pose the question as to how and who to test. Also, why doesn't the ITF go on reasonable suspicion, such as specifically targetting players known to have associated with doping doctors such as Fuentes and de Moral? Does investigative work go on. A further question is why ITF operates on such miniscule budgets. Surely budgets should be based on need, particularly when the grand slam tournaments alone could finance effective anti-doping.

    Lastly, I'd like to know whether sporting authorities are lobbying the medical professions for better support and cooperation. It seems to me that there is at least an arguable case to have doping doctors struck off on the basis that they are breaking the hippocratic principle of 'doing no harm'. I think going for the doping doctors has to be pursued almnost as vigorously as pursuing the players.

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    1. Peter thanks for the question.

      You are indeed correct about the athlete you refer to. And there are numerous other examples which demonstrate the severe limitations of testing in catching athletes who dope.

      I have no spoken to Victor and never felt a need to. I did however read in great detail every detail of Balco and its doping programs. It emphatically influenced my shift from a testing focused anti-doping to one of thinking of testing as just one form of evidence collection to be combined with investigations, partnerships with law enforcement, health agencies and border protection as well as freezing samples.

      I am very confident that the ITF is aware of the details of Balco and have a target testing and OOC testing theory (please don't laugh….it is incredibly straight forward to work out who to test!) in place, if some on this blog cast doubt on the execution of that theory.

      And finally you raise an excellent point in regard to errant physicians being key to serious doping in sport. This is an area where sports really are powerless. Sports are simply community organisations.

      But and it is a big but, WADA is a partnership between sports and governments to fight doping. Those government partners with sport can have a massive influence on consequences for physicians. Most governments have oversight of the medical practice in some way shape or form and indeed governments can make laws to provide administrative or even criminal consequences for physicians who administer PED's to athletes.

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  9. Effective anti-doping will only happen in my opinion once there is a shift on the part of governments and they actually take up the fight directly, either by arm twisting of medical or sporting organisations if not actual legislation or by some other regulatory means. One very obvious way is to follow the money which the U.S. authorities started to do when they took up investigation of U.S. Postal's sponsorship, looking into the money trails's to Armstrong, the doctors and so on. (Why did they give up, by the way?)

    This needs to be accompanied by a shift in public perception and attitude to doping and the harm it causes generally. Within tennis for example one often comes across people who will happily argue that tennis players don't dope because it's all high level skill etc etc where the chance of doping is low because this dope or that dope wouldn't be worth taking and so on. Or worse perhaps, people are just indifferent and couldn't care less either way. There's just so much denial of the problem all round, not just by the likes of Armstrong with the 500 tests he says he passed with flying colours.

    We might then start to see more of an effort within anti-doping itself, rather than, depressingly, the sort of attitude which is reflected by the ITF issuing reports or press releases which crow about anti-doping spending coming in under budget.

    The idea of utilising someone like Conte is really just a way of exploiting, for the good, the expertise of people who know the game inside out. If not Conte himself, there must be dozens like him. Surely there are brains to tap here too. And you did yourself stress the importance of using a range of methods to catch the cheaters, so why not poacher turned gamekeeper?

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    1. I hold the view and have shared it on this blog that governments should take on the role of fighting doping in sport through government funded NADO's with strong investigative powers and government oversight. Imagine a USADA/ASADA/UKAD/AFLD type organisation in every country.

      Sports just can't deal in this space. They are conflicted, under resourced, unable to manage risk of taking on big name athletes, and it is not their core business. NADO's have as their core 24/7 all of staff all of focus business in fighting doping in sport.

      Plus government agencies can investigate, can share info with law enforcement and customs, can get access to financial records etc etc etc. Basically NADO's if set up correctly have all the tools to fight doping. Sports just can't by their structure as big community associations hope to ever have the powers of a NADO.

      As for Victor, he certainly was able to beat the system as the system then was testing centric. But it is not testing centric any longer, the tricks used by Victor are now well understood, and anti-doping today is very good at closing new loop holes plus we freeze samples for future retesting.

      Victor would I am sure agree that anti-doping today is very different to what he had to deal with during Balco.

      The challenge is to get the USADA style best practice across all of anti-doping and not just in a few pockets around the world as is the case today.

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    2. I completely agree that it would be better to have management sourced through organizations which aren't conflicted. If it were to become more government-centric, what would you do if you had a few hold-out countries, which may actually give the athletes of those countries an even larger "competitive advantage" than they have today?

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    3. That is a difficult question. When you have countries ranging in GDP per capita from over $100,000 per person to $200 per person we can't expect the same capability. There are many many many nations that can't afford it.

      ASADA costs around $15 million per year to run. UKAD and USADA in excess of $10 million per annum to run. These are big numbers for impoverished nations. Even big numbers for many non-impoverished nations. But nations that can pay should as anti-dopign is not about what one sport does or one government does but what the community of sports and governments do together.

      So WADA has a program called RADO. Which is the Regional Anti-Doping Organisation. This allows such nations to pool resources and expertise under the guidance of WADA to develop a regional anymore cost effective approach to anti-doping.

      It is a great program and details can be found here. Many of these nations didn't have anti-doping of any note prior to WADA's assistance with the RADO program.

      http://www.wada-ama.org/Anti-Doping-Community/RADOs/

      There is allot of great work being done in this space that few people even know about.

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  10. There is video of Serena's press conference and it doesn't appear that she is responsible for the champagne toast, given her reaction when it occurs. That's not to say it's not a very odd and probably innapropriate scene for a press conference, but she looks genuinely surprised when the man gives the toast to her (is he the guy from the trophy presentation?).

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    1. I was searching through some tweets, apparently it was Moët & Chandon champagne that wheeled the stuff out. They are a sponsor of the US Open. Dumb idea.

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