The AIU has sent a warning to athletes ©AIU

Athletes who dope between now and the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics risk being banned from that event and the Games in Paris four years later, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has warned.

The AIU, which handles doping cases for World Athletics, sent the message amid concerns over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on anti-doping.

Drug testing has been significantly reduced in some countries and halted altogether in others, leading to suggestions athletes may look to take advantage of the gaps even the World Anti-Doping Agency has admitted could occur.

The AIU has warned competitors who attempt to cheat in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020 - postponed until July 23 to August 8, 2021 - that they could miss two consecutive editions of the Games if they are caught as first-instance doping offences carry a maximum ban of four years.

Tokyo 2020 was postponed because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images
Tokyo 2020 was postponed because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 has also inadvertently flung open the door to hundreds of drug cheats, who would have been excluded from the Games had they taken place this year because of a doping ban.

insidethegames revealed last week that the suspensions of over 200 track and field athletes expire before the end of May 2021.

Asked whether it was concerned by the figure, the AIU told insidethegames: "This matter is beyond our control. 

"Under the World Anti-Doping Code, the sanctions are a function of time and are not correlated with competitions. 

"The reason this is high is because the list includes both the national-level cases and the international-level cases that the AIU manages.

"Our concern is continuing to protect the integrity of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 by ensuring that athletes who choose to cheat between now and the Games are caught. 

"Any such athlete risks missing out on both the Tokyo and Paris Olympic Games."