15 March 2016

Authors of Tübingen study accuse IAAF of being untruthful

The authors of a 2011 study into the prevalence of doping have accused the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) of giving ‘contradictory’ and ‘untrue’ statements in evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee of the UK Parliament on 2 December 2015. The study, which uses the randomised-response method to maintain confidentiality, found that as many as 45% of 2,163 elite athletes may have doped during 2011. It was produced for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by a team led by Professor Rolf Ulrich of the Department of Psychology, Tübingen University.

The detailed letter, dated 11 January 2016, accuses IAAF President Sebastian Coe and IAAF Anti-Doping Manager Thomas Capdevielle of giving ‘contradictory’ and ‘untrue’ statements to the CMS Committee, damaging the reputation of the ten scientists involved. ‘We are […] still unsure as to whether we can or cannot submit the paper to a journal’, writes Ulrich. ‘The only explanation we can have for the IAAF’s actions is that the IAAF is afraid that these results are actually accurate, and will have a negative impact on the IAAF’.

Paper not rejected by scientific journals

“The University of Tübingen then sought to publish their report, the research report”, said Coe (pictured) in oral evidence given to the CMS Committee. “They were turned down by a number of scientific journals”.

Ulrich argues that ‘this claim is wrong’, as the paper was never submitted to several scientific journals – only a précis was sent to the journal Science, however it decided that it didn’t fit its categories of article. It was therefore not “already published eight times”, as claimed by Capdevielle in his CMS Committee evidence, argues Ulrich.

IAAF did not get in contact until 2015

In the CMS Committee hearing, Coe said that the IAAF was “still checking whether the Tübingen report uses the correct methodology”. However, Ulrich said that the IAAF only got in contact with questions regarding the methodology of the paper in July 2015. ‘We immediately answered all of the questions, but the IAAF never got back to us after we had returned the answered questions to them’, writes Ulrich.

Ulrich also states that if the IAAF sought “independent advice from social science specialists as to the methodology they had use, as claimed by Capdevielle, then this advice was never revealed to the report’s authors.

WADA’s agreement with the IAAF

The Tübingen study, as it has come to be known, was commissioned by WADA in 2011. WADA needed the agreement of the IAAF to carry out the study at its events and it is understood that the IAAF agreed to this, on the condition that any publication of the study had to be approved by the IAAF. Both Ulrich and WADA have previously accused the IAAF of blocking its publication.

In his letter to the CMS Committee, Ulrich explains that the study was rewritten for inclusion in the journal Nature. ‘WADA then wrote to us to inform us that the paper would be forwarded to the IAAF’, he writes. ‘Only at this point [April 2013] did it become clear to the authors that WADA could not act independently from the IAAF, because WADA had made an agreement with the IAAF which was not disclosed to the research group’. Ulrich states that he has a 22 May 2013 email from WADA stating that IAAF permission would be needed to publish the study.

Reputational damage

Ulrich argues that the study has been ‘repeatedly and publicly criticised and thus stigmatised’ by the IAAF, damaging the scientific reputation of all involved. ‘If these organisations – as they claim – are really concerned about doping, we don’t understand why the IAAF blocked the publication of our paper now for over three years and why IAAF officials did not respond to the successive emails’.

As reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative, Coe also denied promising the 214 IAAF member federations US$100,000 each if elected as IAAF President at the CMS Committee hearing. However, a press release – since deleted – issued on 24 July 2015 through his Presidential campaign did specifically promise this (see below), as this Athletics Weekly article corroborates.

The CMS Committee was far from satisfied with the evidence given by Coe in particular at its 2 December hearing. It now appears likely that he will be called in for more questioning.

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