Even with sports shut down and little testing going on, World Anti-Doping Agency president Witold Banka is trying to convince governments to provide extra funding in the fight against drug cheats.
Drug testing around the world has nearly ground to a halt because of lockdown restrictions, leaving anti-doping officials looking to other methods to catch cheats. That means more focus on investigations and longer-term analysis of athletes’ data.
“With a budget around $36-million [in 2019], less than a small football club, it sounds ridiculous,” Banka said. “We need to do everything to increase the budget for anti-doping policy and of course I try to convince the governments also to make an additional contribution to investigations, to science, to our education projects.”
Banka, who is also Poland’s Sports and Tourism Minister, said he also wants to ask sports sponsors and the International Olympic Committee for extra funding following the coronavirus pandemic.
“Taking into account WADA’s budget, we have a very stable situation. [The pandemic] has not affected us, it’s a really good situation, our current budget. But I’m thinking about the future, I want WADA to be stronger than today,” he said. “We have great experts and I’m sure that with a bigger budget, we can do a good job in other areas and be stronger.”
WADA and other anti-doping bodies have used the pandemic to focus on new technology. WADA is working on using artificial intelligence to analyze athletes’ performances and to start testing dried blood spots from athletes.
Taking samples of blood in its dried form, rather than as a fast-decaying liquid, could be cheaper and less invasive. Agencies in the United States and Germany have used the pandemic to trial the method on a voluntary basis.
It can’t be used to ban athletes until WADA has laid down new rules to make it watertight against legal challenges. That will hopefully be in time for the postponed Tokyo Olympics next year, Banka said.
“I’m afraid that if we do it too fast, some of the cheats can undermine this method,” he said. “When we detect them, when we catch them, they will undermine this method and we will lose it. That’s why it requires a lot of thought.”
In the meantime, Banka warned dopers that a lack of testing doesn’t mean they’re immune from being caught.
“COVID-19 is not a space for cheats,” he said. “If some cheats are thinking that this is time and space for them, I would like to warn them that we will catch you and we will use all the available tools.”