Are doping cases going undetected in elite sports?

A study by Ulrich, Pope, Cleret, Petroczi, Nepusz, Shaffer, Kanayama, Comstock and Simon (2017) has found that only a fraction of doping cases are testing positive in blood and urine tests.

Over 30% of athletes in the 2011 International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Championship and 45% of athletes at the 2011 Pan-Arab Games reported to have used doping agents. At the World Championships, only 0.5% of athletes tested positive for doping agents, while 3.6% of doping cases were detected using biological methods at the Pan-Arab games.

Ulrich et al (2017) collated responses from over 2,000 participants, who had competed in the games. Factors such as social desirability were controlled for and participants answered a questionnaire about their doping behaviour on a mobile device. Other variables, such a ‘too fast response times’ were removed from the data, as to ensure the accuracy of the findings.

It was noted by the researchers that false negative doping results were likely to have occurred due to athletes finding a way around biological testing, rather than an unreliability in the actual testing. When doping agents are taken a long time before a competition, then it is often found that the agents are no longer detectable at the time of testing. Therefore, monitoring an athlete’s medical results over a long period of time before a competition and forming a ‘biological passport’ may be a much more reliable way of monitoring doping. Where this long-term testing has been employed, detection rates have increased from 1-3% to 14%.





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