Irish athletes face more stringent anti-doping tests than many of their international rivals, claims the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme director Dr Una May.
Following Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay’s failed drug tests, Dr May admitted resources play a key part in exposing cheating athletes.
Given that many of Ireland’s top athletes are based abroad, the anti-doping department of the Irish Sports Council work closely with international counterparts to ensure they are subject to the stringent monitoring process as those at home.
Currently Irish athletes can be tested multiple times in a year but that would typically not go into double figures, revealed the anti-doping director.
“An athlete provides us with their whereabouts and if we decide the time is right to test them, we test them,” she said. “We will send a doping officer and a chaperone to collect a urine sample.”
Collected samples are then sent to Cologne and athletes can expect to have their results within four weeks.
However, international sprinter David Gillick noticed that whilst training in Florida, Caribbean athletes were only tested when they went home and believed some countries don’t have the resources to monitor athletes when they are away.
During a visit to Ireland by a WADA official in April, Dr May raised concerns about countries where there was little or no investment in anti-doping programmes but accepted the number of athletes testing positive in recent times is reflective of the progress being made.
“Given the size of this country, we have a small pool of athletes, approximately 100 athletes on our registered testing pool,” she said.
“Because it is a relatively small number we can keep a close eye on their movements, we monitor very closely when they update their whereabouts and their performances.”
The Irish Sports Council operate a stringent policy of testing athletes sidelined through injury because “it is a time when an athlete is most vulnerable,” asserts Dr May.
“They are psychologically feeling vulnerable, their performances will be reduced and they will lose all their fitness. There is a risk then that they could find themselves getting dragged down that route. It is a recognised risk factor.”
With less than a month to go to the World Championships in Moscow, Dr May added that this is a busy time for Irish drug testers because the lead up to a major event is a high-risk period.
With that in mind, interest should also be raised if an athlete in isolation registered a sizeable personal best.
“We would look at the athlete, their performance, the stage of their career, their age and what have training they have been doing.
“In isolation, a PB that is good doesn’t normally say everything. It is a small piece of a jigsaw of information that we would gather.”
While the weekend news was “shocking” to May, failed drug tests among a group of athletes training together is nothing new in the world of athletics.
“It is always shocking when you get a big group like that, but I wouldn’t say that it reveals something that we wouldn’t have already considered to be high risk.
“When you get a group of athletes that train together, work together, if there is anything untoward going on, they are saying it is a supplement in this instance. This is a potentially valid explanation. When a supplement is used within a group, that is when you get a batch of results like this.”
* IOC president Jacques Rogge said the tests showed out of competition testing was working.
Rogge said: “I was surprised and disappointed but I feel strengthened by the measures that have been taken by USADA, by WADA and the world of sport in general.
“It’s always disappointing when you hear bad news but at the same time this is confirmation that out-of-competition testing really is effective.”
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