Gene Testing Set Tokyo 2020, Says IOC Boss Thomas Bach In Anti-Doping Red-Flag Season

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Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, who has been working on the gene testing method since 2006 - Photo Courtesy: University of Brighton

Gene Testing 

It’s that time of pre-Olympic season again: time for Games bosses and anti-doping authorities to send out a warning that a new testing method “could” be rolled out in time to catch the cheat at … Tokyo 2020 (just as it was for any other Games going back to at least 1996).

The latest threat to the would-be cheat – that effective gene testing may be in play come Tokyo 2020 – was made by Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, at the 5th World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland, hosted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The jury is out on whether the fear factor has been a weapon in the WADA’s toolbox or simply a public relations exercise that scares the cheat and calms the crowd.

Gene testing, said Bach, may be accompanied by dried blood spot testing (DBS), which last month was promoted as the first of the new threats this year.

There have been “breakthrough” promises with each passing Games for at least the past six Olympic cycles but none of those prevented thieves from staying at least one step ahead of the police.

The Russian doping crisis of the past 20 years, exposed in the past two Olympic cycles by whistleblowers working with media, has marked the biggest scandal since the thing it has links with, the Sporting Crime of the 20th Century and all-time No 1 crisis, the GDR’s State Plan 14:25.

At the time the GDR’s medals factory was in full flow and the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa was testing East German athletes not to catch cheats but to make sure the state secret stayed home, Vladimir Putin was based just a few kilometres away in his role as head of the local KGB.

These days, museums to the DDR have displays that include packets of Oral Turinabol, the key fuel of ‘victory’. Some of those packets from all that time ago are labelled in Russian not German.

The Russian doping crisis of 2019 is still in play, WADA yet to decide what happens next after data requested from the IOC-accredited Moscow in order for Russia to rejoin the international sports community was subject to extensive manipulation.

All of that unfolded over 20 years or more despite passing pre-Games warnings and threats. Today, Bach issued another to more than 1500 delegates from the Olympic, anti-doping and government-agency community gathered at the conference in Poland:

“With research on genetic sequencing progressing well, this new approach could be a ground-breaking method to detect blood doping, weeks or even months after it took place. These new methods will again strengthen deterrence. We want the cheats to never feel safe, anytime or anywhere.”

The Work Of Professor Yannis Pitsiladis At The University of Brighton

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Professor Yannis Pitsiladis – Photo Courtesy: University of Brighton

The new gene test was developed by Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, a sports science and genetics specialist at the University of Brighton. His work dates back to 2006. It is said to work by identifying use of performance-enhancing drugs more accurately than prevailing testing.

Gene testing is likely to focus first on blood doping and identifies changes to the body’s genetic signature, the natural unlike the introduced.

Alongside the announcement were claims that this marks the ‘most significant advance’ in anti-doing tests since the 2002 introduction of the athlete biological passport, a scheme that did nothing to prevent serious problems, some involving under-age athletes such as swimmers, in China, Russia and elsewhere.

On DBS testing, Bach told the conference: “This DBS method could very well revolutionise the anti-doping fight, since it will allow for fast, simple and cost-effective collection of samples that can be easily and cheaply transported and stored.”

DBS testing, a collaboration project between WADA, the IOC, the International Testing Agency and several leading National Anti-Doping Organisations, is scheduled to be in use “no later than at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 … [with] some aspects of DBS testing could be used as early as the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” said Bach.

Meanwhile, the issues that have left anti-doping looking weak and at breaking point in the eyes of athletes os late, remain unresolved.