The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has issued updated guidance for anti-doping organisations (ADO) concerning the coronavirus pandemic, including advising on steps to ensure public health takes precedence.
Guidance was refined following a teleconference with the National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADO) advisory group, which offers input in promoting doping control strategies and plans.
WADA acknowledged the anti-doping system has been impacted by the pandemic, which has led to countries taking strict measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The anti-doping watchdog referred to border closures, mandatory quarantines, and the cancellation of flights and sporting events, which have hindered typical work conducted.
“This remains the aim, and WADA’s vision of a world where all athletes can compete in a doping-free sporting environment remains the same,” WADA wrote in its guidance.
“However, we all agree that the protection of public health must take precedence; and so, we must put stronger measures in place as a global antidoping community.
“We are grateful to ADOs that have outlined how they are being impacted and what measures they are putting in place.
"Given the differences specific to each country, it is difficult to establish one overarching set of recommendations or guidelines.”
Advice includes organisations developing specific guidelines, procedures and training for sample collection personnel, as well as ensuring those collecting samples do not show any symptoms related to coronavirus.
Sample collection personnel should also be instructed to ask athletes upon initial communication whether anyone at the testing location is sick, experiencing symptoms or in the at-risk demographic.
WADA also advise medical masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and alcohol wipes be provided, with sample collection staff instructed to wash their hands regularly.
The staff should either sanitise their hands or put on new gloves on arrival at a testing location.
WADA also highlighted the need for social distancing, as much as is practical, during sample collection to ensure the integrity of the process.
Athletes should also be required to wash their hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser prior to and after the sample collection session.
Should sample collectors or athletes contract coronavirus, WADA said those they had contact with within the last three weeks should be advised.
WADA also advised that in countries where the situation is not fully stable, organisations should consider focusing on targeted athletes in high-risk sports and disciplines, as well as those in their registered testing pool.
The organisation said once the situation begins to return to normal, WADA can work with NADOs, international federations and major event organisers to address identified gaps ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“WADA has developed this guidance in collaboration with, and with the support of ADOs and other key stakeholders, understanding that these are difficult times for sport,” Olivier Niggli, WADA director general, said.
“ADOs must, in the first instance, follow the directives and advice of their respective governments and health authorities in order to play their part in preventing the further spread of the virus.
“Athletes and everyone else involved in the anti-doping system can be assured that their health is our number-one concern.
“Athletes should also bear in mind that testing will continue only where appropriate and possible and, at this time, with the necessary health and hygiene protocols in place.
“The situation is changing every day.
“However, there are a number of other tools that are available to assist us in protecting clean sport during periods of limited testing.
“The Athlete Biological Passport, in particular, will continue to be an important programme for us in the coming weeks and months, together with the long-term storage of samples collected before, during and after the pandemic, as well as the collection and review of any intelligence received that could lead to target testing, specific analysis or the opening of an investigation.”
WADA said its updated guidance also included whereabouts information, sample collection and transport to laboratories, as well as sample analysis, education programmes, investigations, result management, therapeutic use exemptions and compliance.
The organisation added it was developing another resource aimed at addressing specific concerns raised by athletes.
This resource is expected to be published next week and will be adapted over time.
“The sports world is dealing with an unprecedented situation," Witold Bańka, WADA President, said.
"COVID-19 has forced all anti-doping stakeholders, including WADA, to adjust the way daily operations are conducted.
“But this matter goes way beyond anti-doping and sport - it is a global emergency - and our first priority must be public health, safety and social responsibility.
“As we have done throughout this global crisis, WADA will continue to liaise with ADOs, providing leadership and support so that the health of all concerned can be protected and the integrity of the world anti-doping system can be maintained as much as possible.
“It will also be crucial that the system can return to full power as quickly as possible once the various restrictions are lifted.
“During this time, I would like to acknowledge how difficult it is for athletes, too, who face disruptions to their training programs and uncertainty as to what the future holds for their competitions.”
The UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced last week they were reducing their testing programmes due to the coronavirus crisis.
USADA announced it will only focus on athletes who are still competing and those who are preparing for Tokyo 2020.
UKAD said there would be a "significant reduction in our testing programme."