Drug Testing and the Olympics
Testing is not as rigorous, or as effective, as people think. Here’s why drug testing in the Olympics is unbalanced and often ineffective.
The Olympic Games are a gathering of the best athletes on the planet, each competing to show their skill and athleticism and bring honor to themselves and their country. Performance enhancing drugs are strictly forbidden, and rigorous testing is conducted before, during, and after the games, to ensure that the only thing on the field is natural talent.
However, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way. Testing is not as rigorous, or as effective, as people think. Here’s why drug testing in the Olympics is unbalanced and often ineffective.
A Matter of Timing
Olympic athletes are tested not just during the games, but every year, by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Training for the Olympics is an ongoing process, so drug testing is as well. Between 1 and 2 percent of athletes test positive, at which point, they are disqualified. However, in an anonymous survey of Olympians and Olympic hopefuls, a full 57% admitted to having used some form of performance enhancing drug over the course of the last year.
How are so many of these tests ineffective? Part of it is the timing. Athletes are supposed to be prepared to be tested at any time. However, testing is expensive, and WADA can’t afford to do them constantly. Therefore, athletes know that the time they’re most likely to be tested is right before a competition.
So if someone was taking drugs, say, six months earlier, it wouldn’t show up on their test anymore by the time they actually competed. However, the muscle they built up from those drugs would still remain. Both athletes and coaches know how long different drugs will remain in a person’s system, and are savvy enough to stop before they’re most at risk for testing.
A Matter of Resources
What about during the games themselves? When athletes are actually at the Olympics, surely that’s the one time they’re guaranteed to be drug tested, right? Not necessarily. Again, administering those drug tests is expensive. And while testing during the games is administered by the International Testing Agency, the cost is taken on by the host city.
Testing is just one expense among thousands for these cities, during a time when they often find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of money they have to spend. After fixing up their city to accommodate a sudden influx of tourists, building or refurbishing a stadium, and much more, many cities simply won’t have enough resources to guarantee proper, thorough testing.
In the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, out of over 11,000 athletes, nearly 2,000 across 10 events were never tested at all. The ITA has assured everyone that this oversight would not happen again, but in truth, it’s difficult to guarantee. And as we’ve seen, even if they are able to test everyone, there’s no guarantee that some of them didn’t finish up their doping a few months earlier.
As the Tokyo Olympics approach, the ITA recommends administering 25,000 total tests—many more tests than there are athletes, and in some cases, as many as six tests for a single person. Will their testing endeavor be successful? Will it put an end to Olympic doping? It’s impossible to know for sure. But unless there’s a huge increase in testing resources in the immediate future, then the answer is, probably not.