The Rio Olympics are right around the corner, and as final preparations for the games come together, there's one important part of the event that isn't quite ready for prime time. The International Olympic Committee is still working to keep dopers out of the games, but a major issue with the testing may put the efficacy of the IOC's anti-doping policies at risk. The banned substances at the Rio Olympics may be a lot harder to detect this year due to issues at the testing lab in Rio.
WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, is in charge of testing and setting standards for what Olympians can and can't take during competition. The list of prohibited practices is broken down into two main categories, substances and methods. There are hundreds of banned substances, including many forms of growth hormones, diuretics, anabolic agents, and any drug that is considered experimental. Under methods, blood doping, genetic manipulation, and tampering with samples are banned.
However, there's a big problem this year that may create some serious bumps in the testing process. Late last month, the Rio lab that would test athletes was suspended by WADA due to a failure to meet international standards, and it doesn't look like the lab will open up in time for the games. The lab was previously closed during the 2014 World Cup, and players' blood samples had to be flown all the way to Switzerland to get tested. The International Olympic Committee performed over 5000 tests during the London Olympics, and flying all the samples intercontinentally for nearly three weeks would impose a huge time, monetary, and environmental cost.
But even if the lab can reopen in time to test athletes during the games, it still may not catch dopers. Tests and reanalyses are still being done from both the London and Beijing Olympics, meaning dopers in Rio may get to compete, and potentially win, but not get caught until years later.
There's also the issue of a "deep-seated culture of tolerance" in some countries, according to International Association of Athletic Federations spokesperson Rune Anderson. Russia's entire track and field contingent may be banned from Rio because of systemic doping, allegedly with the government's permission. If there's no incentive to stop doping, and in fact an encouragement to do it and ways to do it more easily, the Olympics can never be fair for any athlete.
The Rio Olympics may be a turning point in the international sports community's anti-doping policies. Combatting the culture of tolerance that surrounds doping in many countries will be challenging, but equality must be a preeminent feature of the games if they are to maintain their significance and meaning. The world looks up to its Olympians, but that may change if they are continued to be embroiled in scandal.