New statistics from the World Anti-Doping Agency have shown Russian athletes are responsible for most anti-doping rule violations ©Getty Images

Athletes from Russia have taken over from Italians as those responsible for the most confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs), according to new statistics made public by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

WADA’s newly-published ADRV report for 2018 indicates that Russian athletes had 144 ADRVs, against 132 for Italians and 114 for France.

In 2017, the Italian total reached 171 ADRVs, well ahead of France and the United States, which had respectively the second and third-highest totals.

In the latest year, the rest of the top 10 comprised India (107 ADRVs), Ukraine (78), the US (73), Belgium (65), China (63), Brazil (54) and Kazakhstan (51).

Five sports remain far ahead of all others, accounting between them for more than half of the ADRVs.

These are bodybuilding (261), cycling (221), athletics (193), powerlifting (164) and weightlifting (157).

It should be emphasised that the above figures take no account of the number of samples taken, with some sports much more heavily tested than others.

Nor do they include the results of samples collected by North American organisations which are not signatories of the World Anti-Doping Code.

According to WADA, these samples are not reported into the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) due to "confidentiality provisions in the laboratory service contracts."

The statistics included 283 non-analytical ADRVs - those which do not arise from detection of a prohibited substance or method in an athlete’s sample – 267 against athletes and 16 against support personnel.

As many as 165 of the athlete-related cases occurred in just six countries - France (39), Italy (37), Russia (25), US (23), New Zealand (21, mainly in rugby) and Belgium (20). 

Five of the 16 ADRVs linked to support personnel were from China.

All told, 2,771 samples reported as adverse analytical findings (AAFs), or positive tests, in 2018, very similar to the prior year.

Of these, 59 per cent had been confirmed as ADRVs by March 2 2020 – a much earlier cut-off date relatively speaking than the end-May 2019 date applied in the 2017 report.

A further 12 per cent of samples, up from 10 per cent, were dismissed because of a "valid medical reason", presumably in most cases a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Moreover, 14 per cent – sharply up from just five per cent – were categorised as "no case to answer", with 11 per cent of samples still pending and four per cent resulting in no sanction as a result of the exoneration of the individual concerned.

WADA director general Olivier Niggli said: “The work conducted by WADA and a number of anti-doping organisations in the area of investigations and the success of whistleblower programmes is paying dividends in the protection of clean sport.

"Other strategies that we know are having a positive impact are through long-term storage of samples for retesting at a later date, the role of the Athlete Biological Passport and values-based education that focuses on prevention and risk minimisation.

"In addition, scientific research into areas such as dried blood spot analysis and artificial intelligence is ensuring innovative avenues for future advancement are being explored."