27th July 2018

WADA 2017 test figures Part 3: All change for AAFs by Laboratory

The Havana, Paris, Doha and Madrid Laboratories replaced Mexico, Almaty, Warsaw and Stockholm as those that reported the most adverse analytical findings (AAFs) as a percentage of samples collected from athletes during 2017. Mexico did top the table for the second year, but it collected just 203 samples during 2017, as it remained suspended from November 2016 until December 2017. Its results have therefore been discounted as being disproportionate due to the low number of samples collected.

Analysis of samples by WADA-accredited Laboratories

During the year, the highest total number of AAFs was recorded by the Los Angeles Laboratory outside of the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) operated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The 416 AAFs it reported outside of ADAMS relate to the US professional sports, which are not subject to the World Anti-Doping Code. The LA Laboratory reported 115 AAFs from 9,275 samples (1.24%) within ADAMS.

It would appear that samples collected for the US professional sports result in a higher incidence of AAFs than those reported within the ADAMS system. The three north American Laboratories reported 1,847 AAFs, 1.4% of the 76,818 samples collected outside of ADAMS. This compares to 2,749 AAFs, 1.12% of the 245,232 samples collected within ADAMS.

Within the ADAMS system, the highest number of AAFs was reported by the Cologne Laboratory, which is perhaps unsurprising, as it also collected by far the largest number of samples during 2017. It reported 245 AAFs, but this represented just 0.88% of the 24,021 samples it collected during the year, well over double the 7,723 samples collected by the Drug Control Centre at King’s College, London.

In a marked change from last year, only the Bogota Laboratory in Colombia conducted no analysis of blood samples (apart from the Mexico Laboratory, which – as explained – was suspended for most of the year). During 2016, three Laboratories conducted no analysis of blood samples. 

Sample analysis in Africa, Asia and Latin America lags behind the number of samples analysed in Europe. Africa was without a WADA-accredited Laboratory to collect samples during 2017, which meant that anti-doping organisations (ADOs) based on the continent had to send samples overseas for analysis. Whilst this represents significant risks in terms of sample degradation during transportation, it is also expensive. 

The 36,589 samples analysed by the two German Laboratories in Cologne and Dresden is only just topped by the 37,090 samples analysed by Laboratories based in Asia, the world’s most populous continent. The number of samples analysed by Laboratories in Latin America dropped from 15,514 during 2016 to 4,915 last year. This huge drop is partially be due to the suspension of the Mexico Laboratory at the end of last year, but also due to more samples being analysed in 2016 by the Rio Laboratory during the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Black spots remain

As in 2016, it would appear that black spots remain in the anti-doping system. It would appear that it is cheaper and easier to get samples analysed if an ADO is based in a developed European country. ADOs that are based in developing nations perhaps do not have the same resources as those in developed European nations. Faced with the expensive option of sending a sample overseas for analysis, coupled with the risk that the sample might be rejected by the overseas laboratory, many may choose to allocate that expense elsewhere.

Athletes from developed nations often complain that they are tested more frequently than those from developing nations. The location of WADA-accredited anti-doping Laboratories provides part of the answer as to why. 

Under the accreditation system created by WADA, there is little choice other than to suspend a laboratory that is not performing as it should. As we have seen in Russia and Africa, this can compound the problem. Sample analysis is expensive, and unless more money is spent on supporting Laboratories in the world’s more remote locations, this anomaly is likely to continue.

• This article is the final instalment of a three-part analysis of WADA’s 2017 Testing Figures Report. To view analysis of the AAFs reported by substance involved, click here. To view analysis of the AAFs reported by sport, click here.

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