In wake of BBC doping expose, WADA says it is exploring claims the biological passport is flawed

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Commenting in the wake of the Panorama programme screened on the BBC on Wednesday, the World Anti Doping Agency has acknowledged the claim made by the programme that it was possible to dope but also avoid detection by the biological passport used in cycling and other sports.

The show’s presenter Mark Daly said he took micro-doses of EPO during the lead up to the programme, boosting his performance but not triggering any alarm with regard to the bio passport.

WADA faced similar claims last month when a documentary aired by the French TV channel France 2 claimed that eight athletes had been given micro-doses of EPO, human growth hormone and blood transfusions.

The programme said that while their performances increased dramatically, their blood profiles would not have triggered any passport warnings.

“We acknowledge that the programme raises questions regarding the ability of athletes to dope by taking minimal amounts of performance enhancing substances without testing positive, otherwise known as ‘micro-dosing,’ said WADA in a statement.

“It is an issue that we are exploring in great detail with experts from across the anti-doping community, and indeed it was highlighted in the recent Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) Report.

“Due to short detection periods for EPO and certain other banned substances, we now know that tests need to be carried out before competition and in certain circumstances overnight (from 11:00pm – 06:00am) as is set out in WADA’s revised International Standard for Testing.”

However as was pointed out in the wake of the France 2 programme, the longitudinal element of the biological passport does mean that the net can become tighter over time.

It remains to be seen if the procedures followed by Daly would have escaped detection in the longer term.

“While the programme suggests that the journalist, through his experiment, was able to enhance his performance without recording an adverse analytical finding (AAF), we haven’t been provided any information that would validate this allegation nor is there anything in the programme which would indicate that his profile would have “beaten” the ABP programme,” said WADA.

That said, WADA and others have acknowledged in recent months that further work is needed in this area, and that the biological passport isn’t as foolproof as was first thought to be the case.

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission [CIRC] made this clear in its report, released back in March. “The biggest concern today is that following the introduction of the athlete biological passport, dopers have moved on to micro-dosing in a controlled manner that keeps their blood parameters constant and enables them to avoid detection.”

As WADA refers to in its statement, CIRC made clear recommendations in this area.

“The no testing window from 11pm to 6am helps riders who micro-dose to avoid being caught. The CIRC is conscious of the principle of proportionality but the absence of night-time testing is a weakness in the current system and needs to be addressed.

“UCI/CADF should make more use of the exception contained in Article 5.2 of the 2015 UCI Anti-Doping Rules (“serious and specific suspicion that the Rider may be engaged in doping”) to test at night-time.”

The Panorama programme broadcast Wednesday also made a number of claims about athletics, including the assertion that former marathon world record holder and current top coach Alberto Salazar has doped his athletes, including those who are part of the Nike Oregon project, a high level programme run by Salazar in the US.

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