David Owen

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has endured a difficult year, but it is to be commended for the data on sample outcomes it has started to publish in recent times.

The body’s second annual report on Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) came out last week, revealing much interesting detail about the 217,762 anti-doping samples received and analysed by WADA-accredited laboratories in the Winter Olympic year of 2014.

Of course, it is not always easy to interpret what the data are telling us: to give just the most obvious example, one cannot know from the figures whether the 13 per cent year-on-year decline in ADRVs reflects a decline in the number of drug cheats, or rather that fewer drug cheats are getting caught.

Nonetheless, careful scrutiny of the data reveals a number of fascinating patterns and trends that are no doubt of great help to anti-doping specialists as they strive to make the regime as effective as possible.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has endured a difficult year ©Getty Images
The World Anti-Doping Agency has endured a difficult year ©Getty Images

The sheer number of samples analysed is not an especially good gauge of effectiveness, unless tests are carefully targeted.

There is some interest, nonetheless, in monitoring which sports saw fewer samples analysed in 2014 than the previous year.

Focusing for the purposes of this piece on the 35 Olympic sports, the figures indicate that 11 of them fall into this category:


percentage decline in samples analysed 2014 vs 2013

1. Curling43
2. Fencing18.7
3. Skiing10.5
4. Badminton9.9
5. Luge6.9
6. Skating6.7
7. Table Tennis4.3
8. Bobsleigh2.3
9. Basketball1.9
10. Biathlon1.8
11. Judo0.5

Ranking each sport’s adverse analytical findings (AAFs) and ADRVs as a proportion of samples analysed, as opposed to by total, also yield interesting – and, in some cases, surprising – results.

SportTotal samplesTotal AAFsPercentage AAFs
1. Weightlifting
2. Equestrian619111.78
3. Golf50781.58
4. Boxing4,258551.29
5. Wrestling5,514601.16
6. Ice hockey3,736411.1
7. Taekwondo2,034221.08
8. Athletics25,8302611.01
9. Cycling22,4712210.99
10. Judo4,453400.9

Weightlifting and equestrian were also first and second in this ranking in 2013, but who would have expected to see the new Olympic sport of golf in third place (albeit on the basis of the relatively small number of eight AAFs)?

Weightlifting’s AAF percentage has come down from well over three per cent last time, so one might conclude that the sport does appear to be making some headway in its battle against the dopers.

Athletics and cycling may draw some comfort in that, while the sheer scale of testing in the two sports generates a large number of AAFs, and indeed ADRVs, in percentage terms they rank no higher than eighth and ninth.

SportTotal samplesTotal ADRVsPercentage ADRVs
1. Weightlifting8,8061411.6
2. Golf50750.99
3. Wrestling5,154490.95`
4. Boxing4,258370.87
5. Athletics25,8302000.77
6. Taekwondo2,034140.69
7. Shooting2,616170.65
8. Equestrian61940.65
9. Judo4,453260.58
10. Rugby6,961400.57

Here shooting enters the picture for the first time, owing to the relatively high proportion – close to three in four – of AAFs in the sport in 2014 that led to ADRVs.

On average across all sports, Olympic and non-Olympic, 64 per cent of AAFs – or just under two samples in three – were confirmed as ADRVs.

WADA’s definition of an ADRV in the report is when “a decision was rendered and an ADRV was recorded against the athlete following a full disciplinary process.

“The sanction,” WADA continues, “was either a reprimand or a period of ineligibility”.

There are a variety of reasons why AAFs do not necessarily result in ADRVs.

The possession by an athlete of a valid therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to justify the presence of a prohibited substance in their sample is perhaps the most obvious.

The information released by WADA makes for fascinating reading
The information released by WADA makes for fascinating reading ©Getty Images

WADA lists five different categories for possible outcomes of AAFs altogether.

The other three are: No Case to Answer; No Sanction; and Pending.

I thought it would be interesting to calculate which sports produce the fewest ADRVs per AAF.

I have used the figures for both 2013 and 2014 for this calculation, so as to have as big a sample size as possible.

By my reckoning, these are the 12 which have produced the lowest proportion of ADRVs over this period; bear in mind that average across all sports of 64 per cent of AAFs resulting in ADRVs in 2014, and 66 per cent in 2013.

SportAAFsADRVsADRVs as percentage of AAFs 2013 + 2014
1. Sailing7114.3
2. Gymnastics20315
3. Skiing611727.9
4. Curling3133.3
5. Triathlon501938
6. Equestrian241041.7
7. Fencing11545.5
8. Skating19947.4
9. Tennis291448.3
10. Luge2150
11. Field Hockey10550
12. Football28414350.4

There is nothing per se wrong with having a relatively low proportion of ADRVs to AAFs; and I suspect, especially given the tiny sample sizes in many cases, that these percentages will tend to vary considerably from year to year.

Nevertheless, if I were the anti-doping authorities, I think I might want to scrutinise results in any sports appearing consistently in the upper reaches of this table, just to make sure I had a good idea of why comparatively few AAFs tended to result in ADRVs in those activities.

One final thought: how on earth will they handle meldonium-related cases when it comes to publishing the data for 2016?