LONDON (Reuters) - World athletics’ governing body (IAAF) has suppressed a 2011 survey that reveals that up to a third of the world’s top competitors admitted using banned performance-enhancing techniques, Britain’s Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD/WDR reported.
The authors of the study, which involved interviews with 1,800 athletes at the 2011 world championships in South Korea, were told to sign a confidentiality agreement a month after the information had been collected and analyzed, the newspaper said.
The revelations are the latest in a series of damaging blows for the sport in the countdown to the start of this year’s world championships in Beijing on Aug. 22.
Earlier investigations by ARD and the Sunday Times prompted claims that more than 800 athletes tested between 2001 and 2012 had suspicious test results that were not followed up by the IAAF.
The IAAF has since initiated disciplinary action against 28 athletes after retesting samples from the 2005 and 2007 world championships with new technology that can uncover previously undetectable substances.
The organization came under heavy fire from the authors of the 2011 study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Tuebingen in Germany and leaked to The Sunday Times and ARD/WDR.
“The IAAF’s delaying publication for so long without good reason is a serious encroachment on the freedom of publication,” a statement from the researchers said.
The statement added that the IAAF had not commissioned the survey but had used its influence to suppress the findings.
Reacting to the latest accusations in a statement, the IAAF said it “had never vetoed” publication of the survey and understood it had twice been rejected for publication in a scientific journal.
It also questioned the validity of the research.
“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,” it said.
“The IAAF submitted those concerns to the research group but has never heard back from them.
“The IAAF is surprised that any professional team of social science researchers should choose consistently to leak research material through the media before it is published,” adding it was continuing it’s own study, started in 2011, for publication in coordination with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The results of the leaked study showed that 29-34 percent of the 1,800 competitors at the championships had violated anti-doping rules in the previous 12 months.
“These findings demonstrate that doping is remarkably widespread among elite athletes and remains largely unchecked despite current biological testing programs,” the study said.
The study was financed by WADA, which told the newspaper on Friday that they had given the IAAF the power to veto publication in return for allowing access to the athletes at the 2011 championships.
According to the newspaper report the IAAF said it was negotiating with the authors and WADA about its publication.
“The IAAF is extremely surprised to see WADA quoted on Friday as saying that the IAAF has a right of veto (if the quote used by the Sunday Times is in fact accurate. The quote in the article attributed from yesterday to the IAAF was never made),” the IAAF statement said.
The lead author, Rolf Ulrich, said he and his fellow experts had been barred from even discussing their work.
“The IAAF is blocking it,” Ulrich told the newspaper. “I think they are stakeholders with WADA and they just blocked the whole thing.”
Some of the study’s headline figures were leaked in America in 2013, but the IAAF continued to prevent full publication, the newspaper said.
Reporting by Tony Jimenez and Martyn Herman,; Editing by David Goodman and Pritha Sarkar