Dr Hans Geyer, managing director of the Centre for Preventive Doping Research at Germany’s University of Cologne, was adamant when asked if the new methods would unmask many athletes whose misdemeanours were previously undetectable.
“Many, many, many positive tests,” he said in Dublin yesterday.
Derval O’Rourke has already been kept waiting almost a year on news of Turkey’s Nevin Yanit, who was suspended for two years last May for multiple positive findings following tests carried out in and out of competition.
Yanit beat O’Rourke to gold in the 2010 European 100m hurdles final and won the European Indoor 60m hurdles title in 2013. The Cork athlete finished fourth last year but is still awaiting news on whether her finish will be upgraded to a podium spot.
New testing techniques promise many more such cases.
Among the new means being used to combat the drug cheats is one tracing banned stanozolol metabolites. This led to a jump in adverse findings from an annual average of 23 cases in 2012 to 182 cases in the year up to the beginning of December 2013.
Geyer and his team in Cologne estimate that 90% of those 182 cases would have passed by unnoticed without the new research methods which have come on stream thanks in part to funding of €20,000 from the Irish Sports Council (ISC).
Dr Geyer’s team has lodged a request with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they test retrospective samples from the 2006 winter and 2008 summer Games. The IOC is currently examining which samples, and how many, should be reviewed.
The retrospective tests would apply mainly to high-risk sports such as weightlifting and track and field and Dr Geyer, who described it as a “big step” in the fight to combat drugs in sport, claimed as many as 20% of those tests could return positive.
Test samples from Irish athletes are among those already stored at the laboratory in Cologne and, while the team there has uncovered what they say are hundreds of positive findings from some countries, they have come across just one from Ireland.
That follows on from the ISC’s annual report yesterday which confirmed that there had been just three anti-doping rule violations uncovered in 2013 in a programme which carried out 862 tests across 32 sports and cost €1,228,776 to operate.
The question is whether such encouragingly low findings suggested Ireland was ‘cleaner’ than many other nations or whether it was a case of the anti-doping measures in operation here being ahead of the international curve.
“We are cleaner because we are ahead of the curve,” said Dr Una May, who is director of Ethics and Participation in Sport with the ISC.
“I genuinely believe our athletes have confidence in our system.
“They have seen the work we do. We work with one of the best labs [in Cologne] when it comes to research. Because we are a small country as well, not a lot goes by, so I think athletes know it would be a huge risk [to dope].”
That ethos was echoed by Professor Brendan Buckley, chairman of the anti-doping committee, who said yesterday that they always “expect a podium finish” when it comes to the issue of anti-doping enforcement and education.
Buckley admitted there was a case for asking why Ireland should keep its athletes “on the straight and narrow” while there is overwhelming anecdotal and actual evidence that other countries and regions are less stringent in their application of the rules.
“I would sympathise with the athletes,” said Dr May.