Organisation director warns of dangers of misinterpretation following any "superficial" analysis of blood passport information

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The world of athletics has been rocked in recent weeks by the publication of leaked blood test data that is said to reveal widespread doping in the sport — and it has raised concerns in cycling too.

The Sunday Times, along with Germany’s ARD/WDR broadcaster, published data drawn from 5,000 IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) athletes, which they said revealed a vast amount of cheating in the sport. They allege that many of these suspect results were never properly investigated.

The newspaper had experts examine the files, which were drawn from tests ranging from 2001 to 2012, and said that over 800, or one in seven, athletes named had blood tests that were suggestive of doping. Ten medals at the London 2012 Olympics were won by athletes with “suspect” test results, it said.

Parallels were immediately drawn with Armstrong-era cycling, when the UCI failed to follow up on evidence that top riders were using performance-enhancing substances.

Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) Director Francesca Rossi told Cycling Weekly, “In general, leaks are a concern in anti-doping, not only for the Athlete Biological Passport programme, but for any activity, from strategy to direct Anti-doping Rule Violation.”

Cycling uses the same Anti-Doping Administrative Management System (ADAMS) as athletics. WADA said this week that the leak did not originate from the system, which it refers to as “a clearing-house where all data can be stored”.

“We’ve never lost sight of the need to prevent leaks, as they can’t be totally avoided,” Rossi continued. “We use a protected and specific web platform to share files and information.”

Rossi outlined a system of ever-changing passwords, records passed only by USB sticks instead of e-mails, and cyclists IDs that expire with time.

>>> Encyclopedia of doping in cycling

The governing body, the UCI, does not have access to the system, and the records are restricted to a select few at the foundation, Rossi said.

WADA has criticised the recent publication of the leaked data, but has announced an “urgent” investigation.

Those in the cycling anti-doping body are sceptical about the ability of outsiders to interpret the “complex” data surrounding blood testing.

“The [biological passport] software is a very complex statistical tool able to make a preliminary and rough interpretation of each passport. This complex procedure should indicate that any superficial approach made by not-qualified people can lead to a misinterpretation of a passport,” Rossi said.

“One abnormal value does not amount to [rule violation]. It is the variations between the values which can be an indirect proof of doping. A single value can only be used to perform target testing or target analysis on the blood sample.”

  • barry davies

    “The [biological passport] software is a very complex statistical tool able to make a preliminary and rough interpretation of each passport. This complex procedure should indicate that any superficial approach made by not-qualified people can lead to a misinterpretation of a passport,” Rossi said.
    So why did the UCI ‘experts’ along with El Presidente, say that Roman Kreusiger had been doping looking at his biological passport ? Only for them to drop the case before it it went to court in Switzerland.. The Panorama program showed quite clearly that you can micro dose with EPO and it does not effect the biological passport !!!

  • blemcooper

    They already use “weasel words” in doping cases that reflect the inexactness of all this. In the Landis case, the case against him stated that his test results were “consistent with the use of exogenous testosterone” or something like that. It didn’t say “caused by” or “the result of” or even one of those with a “likely” added to it. Could it have been consistent with something else? We don’t know since the anti-doping authorities have a security through obscurity mindset (i.e. revealing details on the science behind testing would give dopers a blueprint on how to cheat, so they keep much of that info secret at the expense of public confidence).

    Still, leaks can be problematic wherever they come from for the reasons noted in this article.

    At least in the recent Danielson case, the public disclosure seemed to happen in accordance with the rules with the rider being the one who publicly revealed his positive A sample rather than the authorities or the lab doing so with a leak or press release (which is against their own rules).

  • Dave2020

    The wild allegations made against athletics have all the hallmarks of some ‘experts’ for whom – ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ Talk about jumping to conclusions, not justified by the data. Trial by media is grossly irresponsible. One thing we can be certain of – there are plenty of ‘experts’ whose judgement is swayed by hubris.

    “A single value can only be used to perform target testing or target analysis on the blood sample.”

    There’s no disputing that, is there? Look at Sergio Henao, for example. Team Sky handled that case correctly, but can we be so confident that the right conclusion was reached in the case of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke? Was the evidence actually beyond reasonable doubt, or just highly suspicious?

    “It is the variations between the values which can be an indirect proof of doping.”

    If the science can’t tell the difference between micro-dosing and natural anomalies, it would be safer to word that as – “an indirect indication of doping.” There is still a level of uncertainty as to what constitutes “proof”. Will this ever be an exact science?