A woman walks into the head office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada November 9, 2015. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: While athletes around the world continue to struggle and tussle for real-time training space, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has evolved methods to fit in better doping control programmes to suit current pandemic times.

Drug testing around the world has nearly come to a standstill due to restrictions following lockdowns across the globe. This has left anti-doping officials looking at other methods to catch drug cheats, and one of these would a more sustained focus on investigations and longer-term analysis of athletes’ data.

Following up on its COVID-19 guidance protocol released in the second half of March, WADA has now updated its guidance for members and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) with the focus more on resumption of athlete testing as governments commence easing up on deconfinements for various sports.

“We are providing clear guidance so that the integrity of the system can be maintained wherever testing programmes can resume. But this has to be done without jeopardising the health of athletes, sample collection personnel or anyone coming into contact with them. It is crucial that the system can return to full power as quickly as possible once the various restrictions are lifted, in line with the different circumstances around the world,” WADA President Witold Banka told media in his native Poland, late on Wednesday.

Witold Banka
Witold Banka Image Credit: AFP

The 35-year-old Banka, the Polish tourism and sports minister, is a former elite-level 400m sprinter. He was elected in a unanimous vote in November last year at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland to succeed the UK’s Sir Craig Reedie, starting January 1, 2020.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WADA has been keeping in close contact with Anti-Doping Organisations in order to provide leadership and support in the face of this unprecedented situation. As always, our first priority must be public health, safety and social responsibility. Therefore, we continue to urge everyone to follow closely the advice of relevant health authorities and government agencies,” Banka said.

“In the coming weeks, WADA will establish a Strategic Testing Working Group that will, among other activities, collect feedback from ADOs on their testing programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic and review the lessons learnt. The group will also consider ways to address any other crisis situations that may arise in terms of testing in the future,” he added.

“While the situation continues to evolve, WADA is always available to assist ADOs in supporting and monitoring their anti-doping programme implementation. WADA will continue to publish updates regarding its response to COVID-19 as the situation evolves,” he stressed.

There are several changes on the WADA plate in the near future, and among these innovations in order to make anti-doping more effective is the use of dried-blood-spot analysis and artificial intelligence in the near future.

“We continue to develop practical applications for these innovations while ensuring the appropriate consultation process is followed, and that they are legally sound and in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code and related International Standard before coming into force,” Banka offered.

“What this pandemic has demonstrated is the need for further innovation in anti-doping. WADA knows that to make anti-doping more effective, we continually need to innovate. Our work, in collaboration with the wider anti-doping community, researching new sample collection and analytical techniques has been ramped up,” he added.

As a 400m runner, Banka represented Poland internationally from 2005 to 2012, with career highlights that included silver medals in 2005 and 2006 at the Polish Athletics Junior Championships, a relay gold in 2005 at the European Athletics Junior Championships in Erfurt, Germany, a gold and a silver medal in 2007 and 2009 respectively at the Summer Universiade in Bangkok, Thailand and Belgrade, Serbia along with a bronze medal in 2007 at the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan.