World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) director general Olivier Niggli has admitted the Japanese Government has raised concern over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on testing in the lead-up to the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics – but expressed confidence the system will return to full speed in time for the Games.
COVID-19 forced a near global shutdown of drugs testing as countries imposed restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, sparking fears over the effect on anti-doping and that cheats would be able to exploit any gaps in the system.
Testing has resumed across the world amid the return of sports events and figures published by WADA during its Foundation Board meeting last week showed the number of samples collected in September was around 80 per cent of the figure recorded for the same month in 2019.
But concerns remain in some areas that are struggling to cope with a second wave of coronavirus, which has led to the introduction of further restrictions that could impact anti-doping.
"The situation is problematic and has been problematic, that is clear," Niggli said.
"At the moment, we are back to around 80 per cent of the level of testing compared with the same period of the latest data we have (September).
"But obviously the situation has worsened in some parts of the world and we are not sure how things are evolving at the moment.
"The Japanese side is concerned and wants to make sure everything is done to ensure proper testing before the Games.
"There is still time before Tokyo and we are still optimistic that in the lead-up to the Games there will be full-on testing.
"Testing can still go on, but we are monitoring the situation and it will be very important in the months leading up to the Games to ensure there are no gaps and if there are gaps then there is an intense effort to compensate that if testing is possible at that time – which it will be, I am very optimistic about that."
Niggli also stressed testing was not the only way drugs cheats can be caught, echoing the warning sent by WADA President Witold Bańka earlier this year.
WADA said more than 18,500 samples had been collected in September, an increase of around 4,000 compared with August.
The global watchdog has established an expert testing group to identify lessons the anti-doping system can learn from the pandemic and its first report is due to be sent to WADA in the coming weeks.