01 December 2009

Progress in catching sports cheats

After years of discussion and development, the World Anti-Doping Agency is ready to launch a global programme to monitor athletes' blood profiles for evidence of cheating.

After years of discussion and development, the World Anti-Doping Agency is ready to launch a global programme me to monitor athletes' blood profiles for evidence of cheating.

Meeting in Stockholm this week to mark the 10th-year anniversary of its creation, WADA is expected to ratify the "athlete biological passport" system that has been under consideration since 2002.

The project involves collecting and storing athletes' blood samples and monitoring them over time for any variations that could indicate doping - without an actual positive test.

One system for the world

International cycling federation UCI has implemented its own blood profiling system, but WADA has finalised protocols for a programme it hopes can be adopted by federations and countries around the world.

The passport system will be up for approval Wednesday by WADA's foundation board.

"The idea is to provide the anti-doping world in general with a model so that any organisation, whether it be at the national or international level, can use this," WADA director general David Howman told The Associated Press.

The blood profiles would be registered in WADA's database and could be used for target-testing or sanctioning athletes when abnormal values are recorded. This would add a major weapon in the anti-doping fight, which has traditionally relied on analysis of standard drug tests.

Shows commitment

Howman said WADA can't force organisations to adopt the system, saying it's "not cheap" because it requires taking at least five samples from an athlete to establish a profile.

"It's going to show commitment if sports introduce it," he said.

"It's a commitment which we don't expect can be worldwide immediately. But we would hope that those who have a base to start with get can get into this pretty quickly and that some countries will be ready to do it." Howman said WADA hopes to expand the project beyond just blood profiles.

Biological issues

"It's looking at more biological issues, including hormonal and so on," he said. "This has got extreme potential. We know we have the process right. It's the science we have to develop further."

The passport system is the main issue on the agenda for the WADA meeting, which comes 10 years after the agency was founded in Lausanne, Switzerland. After a series of scandals in cycling and other sports, WADA was created as a joint effort of sports and governments to unify global efforts against doping.

Howman said the blood profile project represents the perfect way to open a new era.

"It does represent the future," he said. "We shouldn't be sitting on our laurels saying, 'Haven't we done a great job, and let's have a big party.' What we're really saying is, 'We've done OK so far, but there's plenty to go, plenty of advances that ought to be made and here's a great example." – (Stephen Wilson/Sapa, November 2009)




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