Michael Pavitt

Last month, Uzbekistan wrestler Artur Taymazov became the 60th athlete retrospectively disqualified from the London 2012 Olympic Games under the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) sample retesting programme.

The IOC’s figure of doping offences at the Games leading to sanctions currently stands at 69 with the 60 retest cases adding to the nine reported at London 2012. The actual number of positive cases is around 130.

A total of 24 medallists have been caught so far in the London 2012 retests, with rightful recipients belatedly rewarded.

The sheer number of weightlifting failures across the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 reanalysis has influenced policy. The International Weightlifting Federation introduced a rule to deduct Tokyo 2020 quota places from repeat offenders amid pressure from the IOC and fears over its Olympic future.

Testers have always been viewed as playing catch up to cheats. At least with the eight, now 10-year statute of limitations, there is a window for technology to get up to speed.

With retesting leading to 130 of the 163 reported cases since its introduction at Athens 2004, it is clear how crucial a tool storage and reanalysis has been and, perhaps, serves as the biggest deterrent to athletes tempted to dope.

"The reanalyses programme shows the determination of the IOC in the fight against doping,” an IOC spokesperson told insidethegames.

"Samples are being kept since the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and are regularly reanalysed, using the very latest scientific analysis methods. The IOC is leading here by example.”

Given the success of the IOC retesting programme, why then have we not seen similar numbers of cases coming from Continental Games?

Artur Taymazov became the 60th athlete to retest positive in reanalysis of London 2012 samples last month ©Getty Images
Artur Taymazov became the 60th athlete to retest positive in reanalysis of London 2012 samples last month ©Getty Images

Short windows for storage and retesting from organisers would appear to be key.

The Olympic Council of Asia has, according to WADA Independent Observer reports, staggeringly only held samples for the three-month period identified in the laboratory contract.

By contrast, the European Olympic Committees, which has just had the second edition of its still fledgling European Games, hold samples for one-and-a-half years, with the onus placed upon International Federations (IFs) or National Anti-Doping Agencies (NADOs).

The Panam Sports Medical Commission keeps samples until the next edition of the Pan American Games, with IFs having the opportunity to request longer storage at their own expense.

The picture it paints is one of inconsistency, with three organisers of continental events operating with three different policies.

It is farcical that athletes at the Asian Games would have their samples stored for at least 15 months less than their counterparts at the European Games and three years and nine months less than those at the Pan American Games.

How can athletes be sure they are being treated fairly when there is such an inconsistency?

It also seems like a waste of time and resources to conduct tests on athletes to merely dispense of potential evidence only months later.

The EOC policy is an interesting one, with the organisation claiming it has largely been aimed at ensuring they did not "duplicate storage and reanalysis costs", instead entrusting this process to IFs and the NADOs which would have an interest.

I do not completely buy the reasoning behind this.

The EOC say they have entrusted IFs and NADOs to conduct retesting of European Games samples ©Getty Images
The EOC say they have entrusted IFs and NADOs to conduct retesting of European Games samples ©Getty Images

Sure, the storage and retesting of samples is a costly business. The IOC have said the cost of reanalysis is between $350 (£288/€315) to $1,000 (£823/€901) per sample depending on the menu, I.e. What substances you are testing for.

A basic calculation gives a range of between $240,000 (£197,500/€216,000) to $683,000 (£562,000/€616,000) if you retested all 683 medal winners at Minsk 2019 European Games, assuming for the sake of simplicity that only one athlete was retested in team events.

There is also the cost of storage to consider. The IOC say their cost is around $20,000 (£16,400/€18,000) for all the samples the organisation currently has, with the figure having been reduced after buying the fridges used for the storage.

The figure is sizeable, yet you can be sure not all medal winners from Games would be retested anyway as nations and sports with a perceived higher risk would almost certainly be focused on.

Given the EOC’s President Janez Kocijančič has repeatedly expressed his ambition to create a “massive sports event which would be second only to the Olympics”, you would expect near Olympic standards.

A direct comparison between the IOC and EOC would be unfair given the disparity in resources but it is worth noting that the Commonwealth Games Federation last year confirmed it would store samples for retesting for the full 10-year window permitted.

While we are yet to see how the CGF’s retesting operates in practice, the intention is positive from an organisation which is not awash with cash and has a profile the EOC President wants his own Games to surpass.

Given there were numerous sports which featured on the programmes at the Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and the European Games, are the EOC right or wrong over fears of duplicating costs?

I do wonder whether the buck has been passed somewhat to IFs and NADOs.

At a time when IFs are being pressured to separate their anti-doping operations from the day-to-day running of their organisations, I would be concerned as to the amount of faith being placed in IFs and NADOs to follow up with retesting of samples from Continental Games.

There are some IFs I would back to conduct retests, but given the costs involved and the negative headlines associated with finding a case, I question how many would be keen to take up the offer of taking on storage and retesting responsibilities.

Reanalysis of samples has led to numerous cases at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Reanalysis of samples has led to numerous cases at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Continental Games organisers have been attempting in recent years to grow the prestige of their respective events, with each placing an increased focus on ensuring Olympic qualifiers forming part of their events.

A record 22 events at the Pan American Games offered a form of Olympic qualification, while the figure was 10 for the European Games at Minsk. A total of 15 disciplines will serve as Tokyo 2020 qualifiers at the African Games in Rabat, with the retesting process of Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa still unclear.

Given the growing importance of the events as a pathway to the Olympics, there seems a greater importance to ensuring a consistent standard of storage and retesting across the Continental Games and a greater responsibility on organisers to achieve that.

You wonder how much potential evidence is currently being tipped down the sink, which could otherwise be used to benefit rightful medal winners at both Olympic and continental level.

Issues still exist with retesting.

As it stands, there is currently a lack of transparency over who gets retested and what they are retested for. A focus on retesting high-risk sports and athletes’ countries with a doping history is understandable.

But does it give us the full picture? And are we sure that cheats have not slipped through the net because their nation and sport is currently less tainted?

There is no doubt, though, that retesting is a valuable tool and increased efforts from major event organisers would further boost one of the key deterrents anti-doping has.