Anti-Doping Testing in Rio Was a Spectacular Clusterfuck, According to Report

​The anti-doping program during the Rio Olympics "would have almost certainly collapsed…in the face of great difficulties" without the extraordinary effort of the doping control workforce, according to a recently released report.

Oct 28 2016, 1:26pm

The anti-doping program during the Rio Olympics "would have almost certainly the face of great difficulties" if not for the extraordinary effort of the doping control workforce, according to a recently released report by WADA's Independent Observers appointed to oversee the Games.

The independent observers called the logistical issues they encountered "foreseeable and entirely avoidable, which makes their occurrence all the more disappointing. The aggregate effect was to strain the basic sample collection process at competition venues and in the Athletes Village DCS [Doping Control Station] close to breaking point, with many discrepancies observed in the sample collection procedure."

The issues were myriad, covering all areas of logistics, training, sample collection, and inadequate staffing. Overall, the report paints the Rio 2016 anti-doping procedures as a step backwards from previous Games.

"As a result, much of this report must cover old ground, making recommendations to ensure that at future Games the sample collection process returns to the standard that was set at previous Games."

Some of the issues were results of the widespread budget cuts in the face of Brazil's economic collapse. For example, a joint IOC/WADA task force recommended that 30 percent more testing chaperones—who escort the athletes to and from testing, observing them throughout the process—be hired to cover predictable attrition, but those hires were never made. This proved to be a huge problem when attrition was even worse than expected. On some occasions, half of the expected chaperones didn't turn up, or showed up "very late" because they had to take public transportation, since funding for their transportation was also cut (the report highlights an extreme example where, due to a confluence of unfortunate circumstances, one poor doping control official had to sleep in a venue's doping control center overnight). This meant there weren't enough chaperones to notify and escort athletes to and from testing. In some extreme cases, athletes weren't tested at all because they didn't have enough chaperones and couldn't find someone else to fill in on short notice.

The lack of provided transportation affected more than just the number of tests conducted. The report believes it—and also an inadequate number of meal tickets—contributed to the even higher rate of attrition, which isn't surprising given previous reports on the poor treatment of Olympics volunteers during the Games. "Given the remoteness of some of the venues/the location of the Doping Control Station at those venues," the report concluded, "this was again negligent on the part of Rio 2016."

Another effect of the budget cuts were on the number of blood collection officers available. Only ten blood collection officers available for the entire Olympics because a contract with a local company for phlebotomists fell through at the last minute (there were supposed to be 25). Predictably, this meant fewer athletes could be tested, even in high-risk sports. For example, there was no in-competition blood testing in "many high risk sports" including weightlifting, and no out-of-competition testing for swimming, cycling, and athletics because of the personnel shortfall. Even some athletes were surprised by the the lack of blood testing, according to the independent observers.

Still, some of the issues had nothing to do with budget cuts. Doping Control Officers (DCOs) had no mandatory training on basic procedures, and the only training offered to them was in English. "It was apparent many of the DCOs present were not fluent in English and could not follow the session," the observers reported. Also, some DCOs said they never received the anti-doping manual outlining basic procedures.

This had a pronounced effect on the quality of testing conducted. Independent observers found "non-conformities" in about 30 percent of the samples (compared to ten percent during London 2012). Among the "non-conformities" were: "samples arriving with inadequate paperwork (e.g., wrong discipline, no athlete gender or age recorded); blood tubes containing an insufficient volume of blood; and blood collected in the wrong blood tubes."

As far as testing in the Athletes Village went, well, it didn't, in many cases. Apparently, the doping control officers had no reliable way of tracking down athletes in the sprawling complex, since many athletes simply wrote down "athletes village" as their location inside the athletes village (and even if they did find out a specific location, the athletes might not be there). Short on personnel, the anti-doping officials often had no choice but to abandon testing if they couldn't find the athlete, which occurred in up to 50 percent of the planned tests on some days.

This is to say: anti-doping testing in Rio was just as much of a clusterfuck as everything else.