8 September 2015

UK Parliament publishes ‘blocked’ Tübingen study

The Culture, Media & Sport select committee of the UK Parliament has published a 2011 study (available below) produced by the University of Tübingen for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which suggests that as many as 45% of 2,163 athletes may have doped in 2011. The decision to publish the doping prevalence study was taken after a CMS committee hearing this morning, at which WADA Director General, David Howman, said that a confidentiality agreement with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had allowed it to block publication of the study. Howman added that the IAAF block went against WADA’s wider duty of transparency.

“This study was commissioned in 2011 by WADA, but WADA has been unable to publish it because the IAAF has refused permission for it to do so”, said CMS committee Chair, Jesse Norman MP (pictured) in a statement. “The University of Tübingen has been quoted as saying: ‘The IAAF’s delaying publication for so long without good reason is a serious encroachment on the freedom of publication’, and its lead author, Rolf Ulrich, as saying ‘The IAAF is blocking it’ […] The report contains no identifying information about any athletes, and its conclusions have already been widely reported. In this context, the Committee felt that it was in the public interest to put this report into the public domain.”

The Tübingen study (see below) surveyed 2,163 athletes at two major sporting events, the Daegu IAAF World Championships and the Doha Pan-Arab Games, both held in 2011. It involved asking athletes whether they had doped during the past year.

It found that at Daegu, the prevalence of doping by athletes during the past year was at least 29% and at Doha, at least 45%. ‘In subsequent sensitivity analyses, assessing the robustness of these estimates under numerous hypothetical scenarios of intentional or unintentional non-compliance by respondents, the estimates remained little changed, or even appeared too low’, reads the study. ‘These findings demonstrate that doping is remarkably widespread among elite athletes, and remains largely unchecked despite current biological testing programmes’.

The Tübingen study 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. As previously reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative, the IAAF raised issues with the methodology used to carry out the study. The IAAF argued that as the research team had failed to respond to these concerns, it had not agreed to publication of the findings.

‘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 […] 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.’

WADA said that the IAAF had not approved the publication of the research, which the Sunday Times reported 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.”

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