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COVID-19 prompts Zoom doping tests for athletes

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced anti-doping agencies to get creative.

COVID-19 prompts Zoom doping tests for athletes
[Photo: rawpixel]

Here’s a new addition to the list of things happening at home during the COVID-19 pandemic: doping tests for professional athletes. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is now exploring in-home drug tests with a pilot program of 15 volunteers.

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The onset of the global pandemic has thrown the world of sports into chaos, with the issue of doping as a looming question mark. In March, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it would see a gap in testing, as regulators could no longer conduct drop-ins due to countries closing borders and enforcing quarantines. At least one British racewalker went on record calling the gap a “gift” for cheats, who could “get huge gains in a two to three month period” during the hiatus.

And with the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there are concerns that unscrupulous athletes might try to pump up their medal chances by using performance-enhancing drugs during the lockdown.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s CEO, Travis Tygart, told the Associated Press that the new program gives athletes an opportunity to prove they’ve stayed clean during these unprecedented times. “It was going to unnecessarily create a question when those athletes went to Tokyo and won, where people would say, ‘You won but you weren’t tested,’ during the pandemic,” Tygart said.

Under the program, athletes will still fill out forms on their whereabouts, which previously allowed for surprise visits from drug testers. But instead, they’ll receive notifications for video calls with doping control officers over Zoom or FaceTime. And when it comes to collecting samples, athletes will bring mailed sample kits into the bathroom, leaving their laptops pointed towards the closed door as an officer supervises via webcam—mimicking in-person tests, during which an officer would stand and wait outside the bathroom.

The athletes will be timed and their temperatures monitored to ensure they’re providing samples during the given window.

The program’s volunteers consist of world-class American athletes, including sprinters Allyson Felix and Noah Lyles, swimmer Katie Ledecky, steeplechaser Emma Coburn, and hurdler Sydney McLaughlin.

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“The people who play clean want to be true heroes and role models,” Tygart told the Associated Press. “For the good of the athletes, anti-doping has to reinvent itself in times like these to stay relevant.”

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