(This post has been updated with information received from the Portuguese organisers of the 2016 World MTBO Championships. The updates are shown in the text in blue)
I always believed that the anti-doping fight was too important a matter to be left to the anti-doping officers, to paraphrase Clemenceau’s famous assertion that war is too important a matter to be left to the generals.
Yet, I always found it difficult to have a meaningful discussion about it with Brian and the Council when I was the Chair of the MTBO Commission. Their argument was, of course, that anti-doping matters are highly confidential. That is obviously a very relevant point regarding specific tests, but I could never figure out the reason for their reluctance to discuss anti-doping strategy and finance. Were they hiding their lack of understanding and unwillingness to learn about the topic? Or were they simply reluctant to engage in meaningful discussions?
To the deepest regret of most top managers, questions do not disappear just because they do not want to talk about them. This applies also to the IOF’s anti-doping activity, and the more one scratches the surface the more questions pop up. In this post I will share with you some observations that suggests that all is not well. I have more facts about MTBO for the simple reason that I talk to most athletes and organisers in that discipline, but both anecdotal evidence and data available suggests that there are similar questions across all disciplines of the IOF.
Fewer AD tests
There was a sharp drop in the number of AD tests for MTBO athletes commissioned by the IOF. There is no official data available, but MTBO is a small community (a bit like FootO was in the 80s and 90s), and people talk to each other.
Some explanation: OOC stands for out of competition, IC stands for in competition. The peak in 2016 was achieved in a hybrid year of financing when the IOF leadership introduced flat taxes (or “donations”, as they call it), instead of just surprising the organisers on the event by the number of AD tests to be paid for. The Portuguese World Championship organisers were asked if they wanted to pay the then newly set fee of €4000 according to the new AD financing system, or pay for the tests as requested by the IOF according to the old system. Knowing that typical number of tests requested would cost less than €4000, the Portuguese elected to pay themselves. They had the pleasure to pay for a record number of 27 AD tests on 18 athletes, far the highest ever requested by the IOF on a single World MTBO Championships. That cost the Portuguese organisers at around €6500, including doctors’ fee. There was a strong feeling that the IOF took advantage of the situation that the Portuguese elected to go by the old system. This feeling of being taken advantage of was strengthened, when both in 2017 and 2018 the IOF paid only for 8 tests (i.e. less then third that of ordered in 2016) on the World MTBO Championships, despite collecting a record amount of €5000 and €5500 from the organisers.
Anecdotal evidence from FootO elite athletes suggests that recently there was also a sharp drop in AD tests on major FootO events.
Unfortunately, the hard facts available also point to the same directions. The number of athletes in the IOF Registered Testing Pool has dropped by over 60% in 2 years. The number of FootO athletes dropped from 8 to 3 between 2016 and 2018. These are the athletes who have to report their whereabouts in WADA’s ADAMS system, that is, these are the athletes who can get an out of competition AD tests ordered by the IOF. You may find the lists of the registered athletes here.
But this is not the end of the story.
More AD money collected
The falling number of IOF AD tests looks even stranger if we take into account that the IOF collects more and more money for MTBO AD tests in the “IOF AD Fund”
In 2017 and 2018 there were three declared components in the IOF budget earmarked for AD financing that supposed to make up the AD fund:
- An AD tax levied on organisers as detailed below
- The €30 per person fee for athletes’ licences
- A €7500 grant from the International Olympic Committee
The above chart shows the monies that were supposed to be spent MTBO AD, including a 1/3 part of the IOC grant. In 2016 part of the tests were paid by the Portuguese organisers, as discussed above.
One has to understand that this is a rather virtual “AD Fund”. The IOF official audited financials do not show it as a separate item. It is only part of the IOF’s management budget with no verifiable detail. The very fact that in the published 2018 financial forecast (see on pages 109-110 of the Congress Binder) suggests that the “AD Fund” will be spent exactly to the €55,523 as collected, suggests that it is really just a virtual concept.
AD tax on organisers
Under the new AD financing system organisers have to pay a preset amount to the IOF for AD purposes. The predictability of this additional expense is good for the organisers. The growing amount though is much higher than they had to pay in previous years. Unfortunately, it also introduced what in finance they call “moral hazard” for the IOF Leadership: once the money is collected, it may get spent for other purposes than AD.
To make matters even more controversial, organisers enjoy the gallows humour of the IOF leadership who call the AD tax levied on organisers “donation”. As if it were a voluntary decision whether to pay an additional €5500 in 2018 and €6250 in 2022 after a World Championship, over and above the tens of thousands organisers pay already to the IOF as sanction fees.
The other major source of this AD fund is the €30 per athlete collected from the elite as a licence fee. Athletes were obviously not amused when this extra charge was introduced. Hence, it is often repeated in IOF communication that is collected for AD purposes.
The ones who naively believed that the Athletes’ Licence fee was introduced for funding AD activities, may want to have a closer look at Council minutes.
Point 22 of the January 2014 Council Meeting minutes (#168) stated that the athletes’ licence was planned to be a source to fund “IOF services to event organisers” (a project driven by Leho). It was only a year later, in January 2015, when the athletes’ licence fee story changed to financing the AD program (Point 10.4 #173).
To collect more money from athletes was decided a long while ago. The question was only the packaging. For marketing reasons, obviously it is a much easier sell to athletes that the extra fee goes to fund AD tests, than to the deservedly unpopular IOF IT system. In reality, it does not make a real difference, because the money ends up anyhow in the black hole of IOF finances.
The really exciting questions start to arise when one puts all the above together and calculates the implied cost of a single AD test ordered and paid by the IOF:
Compare this to around €160 for urine and €192 for EPO base cost of a test without in-field doctor’s fee for sample collection (IMIM Lab,Barcelona, August 2016).
This chart makes you wonder:
Could it happen that AD tests got so much more expensive in recent years?
Or could it happen that a large and increasing part of the AD fund was spent on other purposes by the IOF than AD testing?
Could there be a connection between the difficult financial situation of the IOF that fewer AD tests were ordered, though more money was collected?
In 10 days time, on 5 October, on the pre-General Assembly Seminar there will be a short presentation on the IOF anti-doping work.
Will we get answers to these questions? Will there be member federations at all, who will ask questions?