17 August 2015

IAAF concerns prevented publication of 2011 doping study

Concerns raised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) prevented the publication of a study which concluded that between 29% and 34% of the 1,800 athletes at the 2011 Daegu World Championships had doped during the previous year. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which funded the research, said that the IAAF had not approved its publication. The IAAF admitted raising concerns about the research, and that it had not been published.

The IAAF denied using a veto to prevent publication of the research, which featured in an article in the Sunday Times. ‘The IAAF has never vetoed publication of the article’, read a 16 August IAAF statement. ‘The IAAF does, however, have serious reservations as to the interpretation of the results made by the research group as confirmed by high-profile experts in social science who reviewed the publication on our request. The IAAF submitted those concerns to the research group but has never heard back from them.’

WADA said that the IAAF had not approved the publication of the research, which the Sunday Times said it had funded in partnership with the University of Tübingen. “WADA sought the agreement of the IAAF to carry out the project at the Daegu World Championships in 2011”, a WADA spokesperson told the BBC. “Their consent was given so that researchers had access to athletes at the event, and was conditional upon any publication first being approved by the IAAF. The IAAF has not approved the publication of the project.”

The IAAF’s statement expressed surprise ‘that any professional team of social science researchers should choose consistently to leak research material through the media before it is published’. It also said that it is continuing its own prevalence study, which it began in 2011, based on results from the athlete biological passport (ABP). ‘We aim at finalising an article for scientific publication, in coordination with WADA’, read its statement.

The study in question was financed by WADA, which was keen to test the randomised response method, which uses specific techniques to maintain confidentiality. In 2011, a study it commissioned found that respondents had manipulated answers in order to give the impression that they are an athlete who is against doping.

‘The study in question was a social science based survey conducted by WADA and a team of researchers at the Athletes’ village in Daegu’, read the IAAF statement. ‘The purpose of the study was to assess the reliability of potential new methods of evaluating the prevalence of doping in sport using more of a social science approach (randomised-response survey). The survey was intended to be extended to multi-sport events and no publication was ever evoked.’

The Sunday Times reported that a month after collecting the information, the researchers were told to sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent them speaking out about the admissions. “The IAAF is blocking it”, the lead author of the research, Dr. Rolf Ulrich, told the newspaper. “The IAAF’s delaying publication for so long without a good reason is a serious encroachment on the freedom of publication”.

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