Scaling up anti-doping measures ahead of Olympics

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 00:00 |
Anti-doping. Photo/Courtesy

Simon Mwangi

A few high-profile Kenyan athletes have been in the recent years sanctioned for anti-doping transgressions.

But this notwithstanding, the country is preparing to send a strong team to the Tokyo Olympics slated for July. 

The upcoming games have triggered a flurry of activity from government agencies and sports regulators such as the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). Granted, Kenya has a fully-fledged laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Being the first and only such facility in East Africa to carry out blood analysis for anti-doping purposes, this is testament to the seriousness in which technology is being embraced in the fight against doping in country. 

Previously, blood samples had to be shipped to France and South Africa for analysis, an expensive feat which required heavy investments in transport logistics given that the blood needed to arrive in the labs within 24 hours after collection. This is especially the case for purposes of Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).

According to WADA, the fundamental principle of the ABP is to monitor selected biological variables over time that indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance or method itself.

In other words, it is now possible to detect use of performance enhancing substances by athletes just by monitoring their blood variables. 

This has, among other things, been instrumental in assisting in identification and targeting athletes for specific analytical testing by intelligent and timely interpretation of their blood passport data.

And just like the old adage goes; the devil is in the details. With science, catching dopers is becoming easier.

Put plainly, ABP is an individual electronic record for professional athletes, in which profiles of biological markers of doping and results of doping tests are collated over a period of time.

This means that doping violations can be detected by noting variances from the athlete’s established levels outside permissible limits, rather than testing for and identifying illegal substances.

For the past two years since its accredited status, the dedicated anti-doping lab in Nairobi has been performing blood analyses to support Athletics Integrity Unit’s ABP together with other anti-doping initiatives in East Africa, such as that of ADAK.

To demonstrate that science is not just about to go away in the fight against cheating in sport, WADA last October announced the introduction of research undertaking in the area of dried-blood-spot testing likely to be implemented for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan.

In addition, this translates to a cheaper and convenient way of carrying out blood testing among athletes.

This is a form of bio sampling where blood samples are blotted and dried on filter paper.

The dried samples can easily be shipped to an analytical laboratory and analysed using various methods such as mass spectrometry.

With the arrival of new or modified substances or “designer drugs” being misused by athletes, anti-doping bodies across the globe are continually pursuing new detection tactics to counter these emerging threats. 

Consequently, ABP provides a corresponding and more refined approach to customary analytical testing with a view to methodically gather evidence of possible doping in sport. —The writer is former Head of Corporate Communications     Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya 

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