MUMBAI (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic is restricting the fight against anti-doping, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said while issuing new guidelines to continue testing of athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Since starting in China late last year, the flu-like disease has infected over 270,000 people and killed more than 11,000 across the world, bringing global sport to a virtual standstill. The Tokyo Olympics are due to run from July 24-Aug. 9, but organizers are under pressure to cancel or postpone them due to the coronavirus.
With most countries going into lockdown and closing borders to contain the spread of the virus, WADA said the anti-doping system was facing challenges.
“The sports world is dealing with an unprecedented situation. COVID-19 has forced all anti-doping stakeholders, including WADA, to adjust the way daily operations are conducted,” WADA President Witold Banka said.
“But this matter goes way beyond anti-doping and sport – it is a global emergency – and our first priority must be public health, safety and social responsibility.”
WADA said it will continue to provide guidance to the Anti-Doping Organizations (ADOs), who must adhere to restrictions placed by local health authorities and governments.
“It will also be crucial that the system can return to full power as quickly as possible once the various restrictions are lifted,” Banka said.
“During this time, I would like to acknowledge how difficult it is for athletes, too, who face disruptions to their training programs and uncertainty as to what the future holds for their competitions.”
WADA said sample collection officials must be healthy and have no symptoms related to the virus and should be provided with protective medical equipment.
If testing opportunities are limited due to local restrictions, ADOs should focus on targeted athletes from high risk sports and disciplines, WADA said.
The governing body also urged ADOs to remind athletes they can still be tested at any place and any time and continue to provide whereabouts for their movements to be monitored.
With several accredited laboratories having suspended operations due to the crisis and more testing facilities expected to do the same, WADA instructed the ADOs to check the governing body’s website to determine the operational ones.
WADA urged the ADOs to inform the agency in case of changes made to doping control programs.
“While there are no plans to change existing requirements under the World Anti-Doping Program, WADA fully acknowledges the complexities of this unprecedented situation and will ensure its compliance monitoring program provides a level of flexibility and understanding based on the circumstances,” WADA said.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond