The International Ski Federation (FIS) is undergoing preliminary talks to harmonize its Olympic blood testing program with other federations and potentially hand testing responsibilities over to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organization says.
FIS has conducted its own blood screening at past Olympic Games, using hemoglobin cutoff values to implement no-start rules and in 2010 also using an Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) model to develop long-term blood profiles on its athletes. In 2014, FIS took about 150 ABP blood samples from cross country skiers and over 50 from nordic combined athletes, including at the Olympics.
The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi were the first winter Games where the IOC also did ABP testing.
“At previous Games until Sochi 2014, the IOC did not conduct ABP testing and therefore pre-competition testing was carried out by FIS at the Games (which until 2010 was only screening),” FIS Anti-Doping Coordinator Sarah Fussek wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “Since the IOC is now organising ABP testing at the Games, preliminary discussions have taken place to harmonise the ABP programmes.”
The issue was originally brought up when the Internatioinal Biathlon Union Executive Board voted to suspend its own Olympic blood testing program, a decision which was made without consulting its Medical Committee. IBU President Anders Besseberg later explained to FasterSkier that he was working based on requests from the IOC to bring blood testing protocols from multiple winter sports federations into line, and then hand the responsibility for implementing testing over to the IOC at future Olympic Games.
FIS, however, is not taking major steps so quickly. Fussek did not entirely support Besseberg’s assertion that he had been personally asked by the other winter sports federations to head up the effort, or that there was substantial communication with other federations.
“WADA stakeholders and especially the IOC as a major event organiser are in regular contact with FIS about harmonising the programmes and resources,” Fussek wrote. “The discussions take place between FIS and the IOC, as well as between the IFs [international federations]… Anders Besseberg is the AIOWF [Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations] representative on the WADA Executive Board, so he is regularly discussing anti-doping activities with WADA and the IOC in this capacity.”
Instead, Fussek implied that if the IOC did take over Olympic blood passport testing completely, it would free up FIS to deploy some of that sampling effort at other major competitions and throughout the year.
Across all disciplines, FIS carried out 1,379 out-of-competition tests last season, of which 723 – more than half – were ABP tests on cross country skiers. That complements the 635 total in-competition tests.
“Harmonisation – one of the main elements of the WADA Code and its stakeholders – is that programmes and testing shall be harmonised, even more under the new WADA Code coming into force on 1st January 2015,” Fussek wrote. “The IOC can set its own testing numbers, but they certainly take the available knowledge and input from the IFs into consideration. FIS continues to carry out own testing all year round with a special focus in advance of major events. And if the IOC will decide to enlarge their programme to a larger number of athlete passport testing pre-Games, then the FIS will adapt the programme to complement the testing at other times of the year.”
Fussek repeatedly emphasized that harmonization discussions were still in the very preliminary stages and that she couldn’t comment on what any final arrangement would be.
Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, until recently the head of the IOC Medical Committee and a longtime antidoping advocate and researcher, confirmed that this was the direction he would like Olympic testing to move in.
“It is a logical step in the evolution of what has been done since 2009,” he said in a phone interview in June. “Starting in Vancouver and then in London and in Sochi, we had the passport working… This is not at all a step in an alarming direction. It is just an addition to the evolution.”
An athlete has never faced an anti-doping violation because of blood passport testing at an Olympic Games; all the blood passport cases which have been prosecuted have come from individual federations like UCI, the cycling union.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.