15 July 2021
With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 starting in a little bit over a week, the ITA has already begun implementing its on-site anti-doping program for the event with the support of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Japanese Anti-Doping Agency (JADA). Both athletes that have already arrived in Japan and those who are bound to travel there soon are currently being tested. Together with the in-competition testing phase starting on 21 July, this constitutes the next stage of a comprehensive anti-doping program for the Games that marked its beginning in 2019. At that point in time, the ITA set up a pre-Games Expert Group, consisting of a pool of specialists from International Federations (IFs) – representing both team and individual summer Olympic sports – and National and Regional Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs/RADOs) representing all five world continents.
These experts undertook an extensive risk assessment on a large population of athletes that were likely to qualify for Tokyo 2020 from all 33 participating sports disciplines. It considered data such as participating countries, risks and history of doping as well as testing statistics in these countries, the physiological profile of the sport, individual data of the athletes, intelligence received, and other relevant factors. The outcome of this large-scale evaluation were over 25’000 recommendations that the expert group issued to concerned NADOs/RADOs and IFs all over the world with one objective: protecting the integrity of the Olympic Games by promoting a level-playing field and closing potential testing gaps for athletes carrying a certain elevated risk level in the crucial period ahead of the Games.
Since the recommendations were shared with the relevant organisations in December 2020, the ITA Expert Group has been regularly coming together to monitor their implementation, which was documented via a specifically designed digital sharing platform. Now, very close to the start of the Olympic Games, this first phase of the anti-doping program has been completed with a testing implementation rate of 80% on athletes that qualified for Tokyo 2020. This high outcome rate proves the motivation and willingness of anti-doping organisations across the globe to contribute to the common goal of a robust pre-Games testing framework despite the many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, following a final monitoring session in the beginning of July, the ITA pre-Games Expert Group has shared additional testing recommendations with the ITA for more than 2’500 athletes across all sports that will flow into ITA’s Games-time test distribution plan to continue to avoid any potential gaps.
The project however revealed some lack of response and diligence from a limited group of concerned actors, which the ITA pre-Games Expert Group detected and tried to mitigate along the project. These issues were shared with the global regulatory body, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which in turn followed up with a number of anti-doping organisations to help achieve an even higher coverage of implementation in the lead up to the Tokyo Games. This feedback will also be used for future editions of the Olympic Games.
“Pre-Games testing efforts are key to offering athletes and fans confidence in clean Olympic Games. The ITA and its pre-Games Expert Group have worked extremely hard over the past two years to coordinate a global testing program on athletes who qualify for the Games. I am very grateful to all those experts and anti-doping organisations who have contributed to this important piece of work as it constitutes the most extensive pre-Games anti-doping program in the history of the Olympic Games,” comments ITA Director General Benjamin Cohen.
“The significant level of implementation achieved by NADOs, RADOs and International Federations cannot be taken for granted in relation to the aggravated circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I hope that this will show the participating athletes that we are doing our very best for clean starting blocks in Tokyo. At the same time, the project has brought to light gaps in the system and room for improvement, which we need to address without delay if we wish to continue raising the bar for all the athletes who train so hard and want fair and clean competitions.”
WADA Director General Olivier Niggli said: “WADA commends the ITA for the successful implementation of the Tokyo Pre-Games Anti-Doping Program and is delighted to have been able to assist. Considering the challenges that sport has faced over the past 18 months, the dedication, flexibility and hard work of Anti-Doping Organizations must be acknowledged. This collaborative approach from all within the anti-doping community is encouraging as we work towards providing athletes with the level playing field they deserve.
“As regards the implementation of the recommendations by the Pre-Games Expert Group, WADA has been assisting the ITA in following up with the relevant Anti-Doping Organizations to ensure that athletes who have qualified for the Games are adequately tested prior to arriving in Tokyo. It is a mandatory requirement under the International Standard for Testing and Investigations for Signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code to ensure that athletes competing in major events are subject to a suitable level of testing in the lead-up, and WADA will also review the information received from the Expert Group about the implementation of their testing recommendations by Anti-Doping Organizations in that light as part of WADA’s Compliance Monitoring Program.”
Next to issuing testing recommendations in the lead-up to the Games, the ITA also invited with the full support of WADA all anti-doping organisations around the world to store for free the samples they have collected in that period in ITA’s Centralised Long-Term Storage Facility (CLTSF) thanks to a dedicated IOC-fund. To date, almost 40 organisations have reached out to the ITA to show their interest in participating in this project that aims to add an additional layer of deterrence to the pre-Games program. The ITA continues to call upon all anti-doping organisations to make use of the program and store the samples they collect on Olympians under their jurisdiction at the ITA facility on a long-term basis for further analysis.
The ITA pre-Games Expert Group for Beijing 2022 is already active and has started its work on the risk assessment for the upcoming Winter Olympics.