Drug cheats from the London and Beijing Paralympics will escape exposure because the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) could not afford to store their blood and urine samples for future retesting, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.
Leading British Paralympians had called this week for samples from all medallists from the London and Beijing Paralympics to be retested in a bid to root out drug cheats who have so far evaded detection, following the decision to ban all Russian athletes from Rio 2016.
But the IPC, the world governing body of Paralympic sport, told DNS today (11 August) that it only started keeping urine and blood samples for future retesting from 2014, for the Sochi Winter Paralympics, because it previously did not have the financial resources to pay for their storage.
The IPC had previously secured widespread praise after announcing earlier this week that no Russian athletes would be allowed to take part in next month’s Paralympics, although Russia could still appeal this decision.
The IPC’s ruling contrasted with the decision of the International Olympic Committee to leave it to individual sports governing bodies to decide whether Russian athletes could compete at the Rio Olympics.
Sir Philip Craven (pictured), the British president of the IPC and himself a retired Paralympian, said that evidence from the investigation carried out by Professor Richard McLaren into allegations of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games showed that Russian Paralympic athletes were part of the state-sponsored doping programme.
Sir Philip said this amounted to “an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport”, and added: “The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised.
“I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me.”
In the wake of the IPC announcement, powerlifter Ali Jawad, who narrowly missed a medal at London 2012 and will be competing next month in Rio, called on Twitter for the IPC to retest all medallists from both the London and Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
David Weir, who won four gold medals for Britain in wheelchair racing in London, also called on Twitter for there to be re-testing of samples from the last two Paralympic Games.
Keryn Seal, a key member of the British blind football team, who competed at London 2012, told DNS that he was “really, really happy” the IPC had taken “such a strong stance on drug-taking in sport”.
And he said he believed that it was “vital” that all medallists from both the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing and London were retested.
But he said he was not fooling himself that banning Russia would “sort the problem” of doping in Paralympic sport.
Seal said: “There are going to be people who will bend the rules in sport. It is human nature.”
A spokeswoman for UK Anti-Doping, which is responsible for ensuring sports bodies in the UK are compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code and for testing UK athletes competing in Paralympic sport, said it was a matter for the IPC whether it carried out retrospective testing of samples from Beijing and London.
But she said that retrospective re-testing of urine and blood samples – they can re-test samples up to 10 years after they are first taken – was a “really vital tool” in countering doping in sport, including Paralympic sport.
Such re-testing can take advantage of technological advances in anti-doping, acting as a “huge deterrent” for athletes considering cheating.
But an IPC spokesman said today: “The IPC cannot retest samples from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 as we do not have them.
“It is only from Sochi 2014 that the IPC started keeping samples for retesting.
“The main reason for this is that at the time, the IPC did not have the financial resources to be able to pay for the storage and then the eventual re-analysis of these samples which can only be stored for a maximum of 10 years.
“Due to an increase in financial support for the IPC since London 2012, we have been able to start implementing a programme where samples from major events are stored and made available for reanalysis where needed.
“This is why we now are able to retest samples from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.”
Even though it was Russia that qualified for Rio at the expense of ParalympicsGB, after beating England in the semi-finals of last August’s European Championships, Seal said he had “no ill-will towards the Russian team”.
He said he would be surprised if there was any doping in blind football, as it was a skill-based, decision-making sport, rather than one based on endurance or power.
He said: “I can’t say for sure if the [Russian] football team were taking any performance-enhancing drugs. They didn’t play like they were.
“They did a fairly good job in parking the bus [playing defensively]against us. We weren’t able to break them down.
“On the day we weren’t good enough to win a game against them.”
But if the IPC decision stands, Russia will be replaced by Spain in the blind football in Rio, because Spain beat England – again on penalties – in a play-off for third place last August.
Seal said: “We are still awaiting official confirmation but the line coming out of the International Blind Sports Federation is that Spain will be the ones who replace them.
“They beat us in the third place play-off. Fair play and good luck to them. Spain played good football in those championships.
“I really hope they go on and make the most of that opportunity.”