22 July 2023

Locating athletes for anti-doping tests: issues with WADA’s ‘Whereabouts’ system

• Twenty eight athletes from 12 countries, competing in ten sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light during the week ending 21 July 2023.

Of the 28 doping cases that came to light in the past week, three involved ‘Whereabouts’ violations. Such cases do not involve a positive test (or AAF – adverse analytical finding) for any substance prohibited in sport. A ‘Whereabouts’ violation means that an athlete has broken the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) rules regarding location information for testing three times in a 12 month period.

A ‘Whereabouts’ violation does not necessarily mean that an athlete has missed three tests in 12 months. There are two types of ‘Whereabouts’ failure – a ‘Missed Test’ and a ‘Filing Failure’. Athletes often face criticism for missing tests or recording filing failures. Sometimes that criticism is justified. However, complying with ‘Whereabouts’ requirements is more onerous than many realise.


Article I.3.1 of the ISTI outlines some of the ‘Whereabouts’ information that athletes must provide…

Not all athletes are required to provide ‘Whereabouts’ information. Under Article 4 of WADA’s International Standard for Testing & Investigations (ISTI), Anti-Doping Organisations (ADOs) are required to develop a Risk Assessment that includes a Test Distribution Plan. This must be available to WADA on request. It must include a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) of top tier athletes that the ADO plans to test three times a year or more.

Athletes within this RTP must provide ‘Whereabouts’ information. The ADO must be able to demonstrate to WADA that it has ‘conducted an appropriate risk based approach in allocating athletes to their whereabouts pool(s)’. This is designed to ensure that ADOs test their athletes sufficiently.

Athletes within an RTP don’t just have to provide a location where they will be available for testing for one hour each day. The premise behind ‘Whereabouts’ requirements is that athletes can be tested at any time. They therefore have to provide the following information concerning every day for the next three months:

• a home address, email address and phone number;
• an overnight address;
• the periods when they will attend training, work or education, as well as the location addresses;
• competition schedules and addresses; and
• a 60 minute time slot each day when they will be available for testing, as well as an address for each time slot. 

For obvious reasons, this information must be provided in advance – although this information can later be amended via WADA’s Athlete Central, Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS), or via SMS (although this must be activated in advance). If the information is not filed on time, is inaccurate or incomplete, this constitutes a ‘Filing Failure’. Any combination of three ‘Missed Tests’ or ‘Filing Failures’ within 12 months is considered an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) subject to a two year ban.

If athletes are unable to provide a 60 minute time slot or overnight accommodation due to travel, the travel function within ADAMS must be activated. If an athlete is on a flight and testers turn up and cannot locate them, then a ‘Missed Test’ may be recorded if this feature is not activated. If all travel details, including flight numbers and air carriers, are not entered into ADAMS, then a ‘Filing Failure’ may be recorded against them.

It is the responsibility of ADOs to educate athletes who are part of an RTP about what information they are required to file through WADA’s ADAMS system. However, the World Anti-Doping Code places strict liability upon the athlete, and ignorance of ‘Whereabouts’ requirements is not a defence. 

There does not appear to be any provision in the Code that allows an athlete to hold an ADO liable for failing to adequately educate them about their ‘Whereabouts’ requirements. It would be interesting to know what proportion of ‘Whereabouts’ violations are recorded during an athlete’s first year within an RTP.

Tobi Amusan’s statement on her AAF…

Variations in athlete education can result in differences in understanding how ‘Whereabouts’ rules work. This week Tobi Amusan, Nigeria’s 100m Hurdles World Record holder, attempted to defend her ‘Whereabouts’ failure by insisting that tests indicate that she is a clean athlete. As previously explained, ‘Whereabouts’ violations are not about whether an athlete has returned an AAF.

In contrast, a Statement (below) from Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer indicated a clear understanding that his Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) had nothing to do with an AAF. Ymer’s sanction also highlights another problematic issue. Athletes often delegate the provision of ‘Whereabouts’ information to a Coach or Agent.

While this can ease the burden on the athlete, it can also have disastrous consequences, as liability for correct ‘Whereabouts’ information falls upon the athlete. There have been numerous cases (examples here, here and here) where the failure of an agent to update ‘Whereabouts’ has resulted in a ban for an athlete.

Real life events can also result in a ‘Whereabouts’ strike against an athlete. Earlier this year, US Shot Putter Raven Saunders was sanctioned with an 18 month ban for three ‘Whereabouts’ failures in a 12 month period. It was later argued that major hip surgery and the death of her mother while attending a party to celebrate her Tokyo 2020 Silver Medal were a contributing factor.

A DCO is permitted to phone an athlete in the last five minutes of a 1hr slot, but it isn’t a requirement…

A failure to update an address for a one hour slot on two days, plus a dialling error by a Doping Control Officer (DCO) contributed to a ‘Whereabouts’ violation for US table tennis player Kanak Jha, resulting in a one year ban. If a DCO cannot find an athlete during their one hour window they are permitted to phone the athlete, but only in the last five minutes of the one hour slot. 

This is designed to prevent athletes from tampering with their blood or urine ahead of the test. However there is no requirement that a DCO should make such a call. 

It is not hard to see how ADOs could use utilise the above rules to target an athlete who has made a mistake. Tests could be arranged on days where filing mistakes have been identified, and DCOs could be instructed not to call athletes during the last five minutes of their testing window. Since a ‘Whereabouts’ violation is considered as an ADRV, any conviction would bolster that ADO’s anti-doping figures.

Privacy concerns

Filing ‘Whereabouts’ information requires an athlete to send information via WADA’s ADAMS system, which is then used by an ADO’s DCO to locate an athlete for testing. This centralised database of athlete location information has obvious privacy concerns.

Details of the GRU agents indicted in 2018 by the DoJ for their involvement in ‘Fancy Bears’…

This privacy risk was recognised by the Article 29 Working Party, which was made up by European data protection Commissioners, back in 2013. In 2016 this risk became a reality when Fancy Bears, a hacking group operated by the Russian State, used an account specially created for the Rio 2016 Olympics to leak the medical documentation of dozens of athletes.

At its Foundation Board meeting in November 2017, WADA admitted that it had spent US$200,000 on updating the ADAMS system following the Fancy Bears attacks. WADA’s unscheduled update caused issues with athletes being unable to log in to file their whereabouts – a potential sanctioning time bomb.

“Athletes are angry”, Lars Mortsiefer, Legal Director of Germany’s National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), told The Sports Integrity Initiative at the time. “ADAMS is not safe at the moment”.

Another way?

ADAMS was launched in 2005 and is understood to be medical software that WADA purchased and began adapting. WADA’s 2021 Annual Report lists ADAMS as the main component of intangible assets worth $5.8 million. The Report also confirms that WADA invested $1.8 million in ADAMS during 2021, but its annual operating costs are unknown.

The PARADISE project utilised GPS to geolocate athletes for testing…

In 2017, shortly after WADA had invested in updating ADAMS following the Fancy Bears attacks, an alternative was put forward. Athletes already utilise wearable GPS-based technology, such as Strava, to track training activity. The PARADISE Project utilised a wearable GPS positioning device to give an athlete’s rough location to a DCO, who receives the exact location only once they are within four kilometres of the athlete. 

Sixty percent of athletes questioned by the technology makers welcomed the use of GPS in doping control. However alarmist articles in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph obliterated any sensible debate about how sport could make the lives of athletes easier by embracing this technology. In early 2018, WADA rejected the use of GPS technology in anti-doping, citing ethical concerns. 

Many of these concerns were valid, but they also exist within WADA’s current ADAMS ‘Whereabouts’ system. One system need not replace the other – both could exist in tandem. Use of GPS would remove the need for detailed, centrally held, whereabouts filings. As only rough location data would be stored on the system, this could represent enhanced privacy compared to the current system, which stores an athlete’s exact location multiple times a day for three months.

Using GPS might reduce the minute scrutiny of who is telling the truth and who isn’t, which seems to characterise ‘Whereabouts’ cases. Its use might also catch more actual doping cheats, rather than athletes who are responsible for filing forms incorrectly.

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to the editor by clicking here. Also, if you’re an athlete, national anti-doping organisation (NADO) or other Results Management Authority and you’d like us to cover a case that you’re involved with, please get in touch! Also – a reminder. The SII Anti-Doping Monitor only features confirmed AAFs (‘positive tests’) or confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs).

Decision links

Juan Manuel Nardolillo, Iryna Popova, Sotirios Bretas (UCI List of Provisional Suspensions);

Sydney Dorcil (ITIA Statement);

Mikael Ymer (CAS Statement, ITF Statement, Athlete Twitter Statement);

Tania Campelli (NADO Italia Statement);

Ivan Alibrandi (NADO Italia Statement);

Flavio Mallus (NADO Italia Statement);

Maria Htee (CCES Statement & File Outcome Summary); 

Federico Bruno (AIU List of Provisional Suspensions, Athlete Statement‘On the day of the date I have been notified by Word Athletics Anti-Doping that I have been Provisionally Suspended due to an adverse result of the A sample of a urine test that had been positive for (EPO). I was in shock. To be clear, I have never in my life purchased, searched for, possessed, administered or used EPO or any other prohibited substance. And I am voluntarily willing to have them see my bank accounts, computer and phone. And I am willing to apply for B sample examination. That’s all I’m going to say at the moment.’

Tobi Amusan (AIU List of Provisional Suspensions, Athlete Statement);

Statement: Roger Whitham (USADA Statement);

Marco Paiorisi (NADO Italia Statement);

Domenico Ullo (NADO Italia Statement);

Alexander Ryabinin (RUSADA Statement);

Pavel Ershov (RUSADA Statement);

Sergey Popov (RUSADA Statement);

Igor Zyablitsky (RUSADA Statement);

Danila Moseev (RUSADA Statement);

Sergey Yurchenko (RUSADA Statement);

Maksim Nemtsev (RUSADA Statement);

Vidal Basco (AIU List of Provisional Suspensions);

Nadia Nadalin Zanon (NADO Italia Statement);

Ben Asselin (CCES Statement, SDRCC Decision);

Elchin Asadov, Fabio Mazzuco (UCI List of Sanctions);

Wesonga Joseph Wasike (ADAK List of Decisions, full Decision);

Mathew Kiplangat Sawe (ADAK List of Decisions, full Decision)

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