By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) chief Witold Banka had a message on Friday for any athlete thinking they could take advantage of the gap in drug-testing created by the coronavirus outbreak — “we will catch you” and “eliminate you”.
WADA acknowledged last week that the coronavirus pandemic had created challenges for drug-testers with countries closing borders, cancelling flights, enforcing mandatory quarantines or isolations and the shutdown of the sporting calendar.
For unscrupulous athletes this represents a huge opportunity.
Out of reach of the anti-doping authorities, perhaps in some cases for months, some athletes may feel emboldened to boost their medal chances with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year.
If they do Banka insisted they will be caught.
“They are not athletes, if you are a cheat we will catch you, for sure we… will …catch you,” the WADA president told Reuters in a phone interview.
“If you want to use this situation to cheat us we will catch you and we will eliminate you from sport.”
The coronavirus means, however, that testing is certainly in slumber and WADA conceded that it has been reduced in certain parts of the world although no figures are available.
In the absence of testing, WADA will have to rely on other weapons in its anti-doping arsenal including the athlete biological passport, long-term analysis and investigations.
“The world stops, this is a new and challenging situation for all of us but we have a lot of tools we are using and I hope we will return to full power very quickly,” said Banka.
“Anti-doping never sleeps, that is the message I would like to give to my fellow athletes. Testing is not the one weapon we have which we can use against cheats.
“It is important to know athletes remain subject to testing and they must provide whereabouts information.
“To the athletes and my colleagues we will do everything to maintain the integrity of the system and hope we return full power very quickly.”
Knowing where athletes are is one thing, getting to them during an epidemic is another, with entire cities and regions quarantined or locked down.
But the International Olympic Committee’s decision to delay the 2020 Games for a year has also bought WADA some time to plan and ramp up testing when it is safe to do so.
“This is a difficult situation, a huge problem, but we are doing our best to monitor the situation,” said Banka.
“The decision to postpone the Olympic Games was a helpful decision. I need to say it was a victory for commonsense and I think everyone agrees it was the right call.
“For ourt anti-doping program it was good.”
While testing is down, WADA has made no cuts and is not planning any layoffs, said Banka adding; “Our financial situation, taking into account current situations, is very stable”.
Banka, who helped Poland win a bronze medal in the 4×400 metres relay at the 2007 world championships, said WADA will use every resource available to ensure a level playing field in Tokyo.
“I am coming from an athletic environment and I will do everything to convince the athletes I am working with them and I am listening and I will do everything to create a fair environment for them.” he said.
“I will use a lot of tools to do this. We will use all the weapons which we have.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)