Jorge Leyva has questioned claims the pandemic could lead to an increased risk of doping ©iNADO

Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) chief executive Jorge Leyva has claimed there are misconceptions that the coronavirus pandemic has opened the door for doping.

Leyva, who was appointed to the role in September, acknowledged the current situation surrounding anti-doping was not ideal.

He highlighted National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) being forced to reduce their testing activities to a minimum during the pandemic, with Governments encouraging social distancing and introducing lockdowns.

Leyva said NADOs acknowledged there was a gap in anti-doping programmes caused by the lack of testing, but he argued that suggestions of an imminent risk of doping on a large scale are "exaggerated".

"The first misconception is that doping controls prevent doping substances to 'spill over' athletes like a dam retaining water," Leyva said.

"Once testing is removed, the gates are open for doping substances to circulate freely in sports.

"This assumption is inaccurate because it reduces anti-doping to testing.

"Over the past years, investments made by ADOs in prevention and education, intelligence and investigations (whistleblowing) and accountability have raised the awareness of all stakeholders in sports about the importance of preserving a clean sport environment.

"A second misapprehension is that athletes act rationally and the decision to cheat is merely the result of a calculation of probable benefits vs. probable costs.

"I am not aware of any evidence that supports this argument.

"The large proportion of athletes play by the rules: ADRV reports of the last years suggest a constant prevalence of doping in sport of around two per cent.

"Further, what we have learned during this pandemic is that instead of taking advantage of the current situation, many athletes are willing to go greater lengths to demonstrate that they are serious about clean sport."

Leyva highlighted a pilot virtual testing programme being contacted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), with 15 athletes taking part in the voluntary initiative.

Conducted using the Zoom conferencing application or on FaceTime, the virtual testing involves doping control officers observing athletes while they provide a blood or urine sample.

Athletes, who are sent the testing kits by USADA, are required to video the full blood collection process but do not have to do so for urine collection to protect their privacy.

The athlete must show the USADA officer the inside of their bathroom, through their phone or laptop, before giving a urine sample while the device is placed outside the door.

The athlete then seals the sample and sends it directly to a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory for analysis.

Leyva said a similar alternative is being worked on by NADA Germany, with further initiatives expected from other NADOs in the coming weeks and months.

Several anti-doping organisations have had to scale back testing due to the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images
Several anti-doping organisations have had to scale back testing due to the coronavirus pandemic ©Getty Images

Leyva also suggested the current environment caused by the pandemic appears less likely to encourage an athlete to dope.

He highlighted how typical doping behaviour is promoted by the environment in which athletes live, train and compete, including unqualified support personnel, harmful team cultures and financial pressures.

"Those who think that the current pandemic opens widely the door for doping should think first if and how the current environment promotes doping," Leyva said.

"I am not sure that the current situation promotes doping.

"In the complexity of this pandemic, can we assure that all competitions planned for this year will take place?

"If training groups are not allowed and sport facilities are closed, it seems that many athletes are busy with very elementary questions - 'when will I be able to train properly again?', 'do I still have a team and a sponsor when this pandemic ends?'

"A great Machiavellian brain is necessary to seriously consider beginning using prohibited substances now."

Leyva added that anti-doping organisations cannot wait for the pandemic to subside, with the official noting how performance data and the athlete biological passport were among the methods which can be used to help resume intelligence testing when it becomes possible again.

WADA has also pledged to work with NADOs, International Federations and major event organisers to address identified gaps in the testing system over the coming months.