Study Exposing Widespread Doping In Track And Field Withheld

A study disclosing that around 29 percent of more than 2,000 track and field athletes were doping has been withheld by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The researchers conducted their interviews at two major track and field events: the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and the Pan-Arab Games in Doha, Qatar. According to the findings, an estimated 29 percent of the athletes at the 2011 world championships and 45 percent of the athletes at the 2011 Pan-Arab Games disclosed in anonymous surveys that they had doped in the past year. By contrast, less than 2 percent of drug tests examined by World Anti-Doping Agency laboratories in 2010 were positive.

The involved researchers were keen to publish their results and believed they could expose a harsh reality of today’s sports. But WADA had other plans and the anti-doping agency told the researchers after a final draft of the study was submitted to the agency that they could not publish their findings at this time. The researchers said WADA told them track and field’s world governing body needed to review the findings first. One of the involved researchers said it was going to be a really sensitive issue, and they needed time to figure out how to deal with it.

Nick Davies, a spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said the original study was not complete for publication and added it was based only on a social science protocol, a kind of vox pop of athletes’ opinions. The IAAF spokesman further indicated that blood tests from the world championships this month in Moscow would be combined with the previous research to produce what the track’s governing body believed would be a more comprehensive study.

Meanwhile, the researchers have remarked their work was critical and sound enough to stand alone. They added it made little scientific sense to combine their work with that of a study they did not conduct.

For many months, the team of researchers and WADA exchanged correspondence on whether to publish the findings or not. The World Anti-Doping Agency gave permission in January 2013 and an inquiry was sent to the journal Science, which decided not to consider the study for publication. It was revealed by the researchers that the inquiry was rejected as the subject matter did not fit. The anti-doping agency expressed support in submitting the study to other journals and told researchers in March not to publish but to wait for the IAAF to review the findings.

John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor who is an expert on performance enhancing drugs, said findings of the study dispelled the notion that doping was a deviant behavior among a few athletes. He said either the sport is recruiting huge numbers of deviants or this is simply routine behavior being engaged in by, more or less, normal people. Don Catlin, a prominent anti-doping scientist, remarked he was not sure that the World Anti-Doping Agency had the resources to rein in doping. About the researchers’ findings, Catlin said those are profound numbers but he is not surprised, though.

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