By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – The organisers of six of the world’s most prestigious marathon races are spending a six-figure sum on an “intelligent”, targeted anti-doping programme in an attempt to root out cheats.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors, which groups six of the world’s best-known races, says the lucrative rewards on offer in road racing make it especially vulnerable to doping.
“Running is a fantastic sport and it is vital there is integrity in the results,” said Tim Hadzima, executive director of the consortium which groups the Boston, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Berlin marathons.
“It is the most lucrative discipline there is…therefore it has a high risk of doping,” he told a conference call on the new programme.
The winners of the men’s and women’s Boston Marathon, for example, each received $150,000 last year, while in New York they earned $100,000.
Hadzima did not give an exact figure for the cost of the testing programme but he said it would be a “decent six-figure sum.”
The programme will be implemented together with Athletics Integrity United (AIU), set up in 2017 as part of the IAAF’s effort to tackle doping and corruption and rebuild both athletes’ and fans’ confidence in the sport.
The testing pool of 150 athletes will remain the same, but the traditional system of out-of-competition tests will be replaced with a more “intelligent” approach.
“We have a pool of athletes and we look at them all individually, track their performances, analyse profiles and look at risk factors to group them into high risk, medium risk and low risk,” said Brett Clothier, head of the AIU.
“Individualised testing plans are created, and we look at athletes’ whereabouts, their programme, and when we identify someone we consider high risk, we do a deep dive.”
There have been a number of high-profile doping cases involving road running over the past few years.
Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova was stripped of her three Chicago and one London marathon wins and suspended for two years and seven months after irregularities were detected in her biological passport.
Others banned for doping offences include Kenyans Samuel Kalalei, who won the Athens marathon in 2017, Rita Jeptoo, former winner of the women’s Boston and Chicago races, and women’s Olympic champion Jemima Sumgong.
Sumgong, winner in Rio in 2016, was banned for four years in 2017 after testing positive for the blood-booster EPO, later doubled to eight years after she was found guilty by the IAAF of providing false information.
Clothier added that the deeper causes of doping also needed to be investigated.
“You have literally thousands of road races around the world offering good money,” said Clothier.
“The road runners can go around the world and earn good money compared to average salaries in East Africa, for example. We need to address the root causes to protect what is a great sport.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Hugh Lawson)