More questions on IOF Anti-Doping activity

I did not plan to write about anti-doping questions for while after my post last September. There are many other interesting topics that I could not find time for. But I had to look into this topic again after my post was reported by the IOF to the Ethics Panel and an IOF ethics investigation started.

The sad news is that after scratching just the surface for information on IOF AD activity, a set of new questions popped up again. In this post I would like to share with you three observations that do not require any understanding of anti-doping activities to raise interesting questions.

  • There are discrepancies between IOF AD numbers in different publications, and numbers for different years were apparently calculated according to different methodology. This is not a problem until you try to make sense of the numbers. If you try, you may get somewhat confused. 
  • No information on the IOF’s 2018 AD activities as of 12 April 2019.
    The 2016 IOF AD report was published in December 2016. The 2017 report was published on 1 January 2018. Normally this delay of the 2018 AD numbers would look strange. After the IOF has reported this blog for writing about an apparent drop in AD tests in 2018, this becomes very interesting.
  • In January 2019 the IOF Council minutes stated the IOF AD Fund “had not been completely used during 2018” due to fewer tests. Yet, the IOF Ethics Panel is investigating this blog for a post that discussed the impression that fewer tests were done and less money was spent on AD than collected for the “AD Fund”.

Did the IOF forget to inform the Ethics Panel that the questions this blog raised, in fact, had some basis? Or does the IOF think that asking questions about IOF AD activities is an ethical offence on its own?

I am sure that there is a good explanation for all the questions that may arise when one looks at these data. Unfortunately, they are far from being obvious. One may be forgiven to think that IOF AD reports are a bit of a mess, and that may even dampen trust in them.

I realise that this post may result in another IOF Ethics Panel investigation for highlighting more discrepancies in AD numbers and asking more questions about the IOF Anti-Doping activity. All I can bring up in my defence is a cruel upbringing when I was regularly punished for not noticing discrepancies between numbers and not asking questions about the reasons of said discrepancies.

But now let’s look into the details.

Discrepancy between IOF AD numbers

The last publication on AD activities was published more than 15 months ago on 1 January 2018 on the IOF website. It was titled “Anti-Doping – increasing number of tests” but at other places it was also referred to as the IOF Anti-Doping Report 2017. It includes a chart and a table with AD sample numbers. IC stands for in-competition, OOC for out-of-competition tests.

IOF AD numbers 2015-17 marked

2016 ADAMS AD numbers - IOF AD report 2017 marked

There was also a presentation given by the IOF in connection with the General Assembly 2018. It also showed numbers of AD samples, but some of them was different than the ones published 9 months earlier in the IOF Anti-Doping Report 2017.

GA 2018 IOF presentation - totals marked

 

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

One may find some explanation to the discrepancy after digging into the WADA statistical reports, but then there are new questions popping up. You may find the annual reports here in the WADA statistical reports based on ADAMS for 2003 to 2017, where ADAMS stands for the Anti-doping Administration and Management System of WADA.

The chart below shows the comparison of different AD numbers collected from different sources showing all AD samples in orienteering in a given year. It is clear that some of the discrepancy between different sources is due to the treatment of ABP – Athletes Biological Passport samples. In 2016 and 2017 they were apparently included in the IOF numbers, but not in 2015. B&U stands for “normal” blood and urine samples.

Total number of AD samples in Orienteering 2012-17 marked

Total number of AD samples 2012-17

There appears to be a methodological change in IOF AD reporting. It seems that in 2015 they did not add ABP numbers to the total, while in 2016 and 2017 they added the ABP numbers. This gives the impression of a substantial, almost 30% increase of AD activities from 2015 to 2016, while the real increase was only 9%, part of which was reversed in 2017 already.

AD samples issued by the IOF 2015-2017 - different sources marked

AD samples by IOF 2015-17 table

Obviously, we would like to believe in the IOF numbers, but we must also trust the WADA numbers. In particular the discrepancies in 2017 look rather strange. They cannot be simply explained by a mislabelled batch of tests. How could ADAMS attribute more in-competition tests to the IOF than the IOF was aware of? Where did 17 of the 40 IOF reported out-of-competition tests disappear in ADAMS? How did the IOF realise in October 2018 that the “107 tests” published in January were in fact “115 tests”? Where did the difference come from?

The most peculiar thing is that there are discrepancies even between AD numbers published by the IOF that cannot be explained by the “methodological change” of excluding/including ABP numbers. The 2017 IOF issued samples (107 vs 115) and the 2016 total samples (402+67 vs 461) look rather strange.

Is it acceptable to be confused by these IOF AD numbers, or would that be considered an ethical violation by the IOF leadership?

The only point that is confirmed both by the IOF and WADA numbers that the IOF AD activity in 2017 was lower than in 2016. The difference is that IOF showed a 12% drop in IOF AD activities, while WADA numbers suggest a 21% drop.

In light of the above numbers it is interesting to note again that the freshest, 15 month old, article on AD activities on the IOF web is titled “Anti-Doping – increasing number of tests“. The title seemed somewhat misleading even on its publication date of 1.1.2018. The “increase” referred to the changes between 2015 to 2016. Yet reading the details of the article one could already understand that in 2017 the total number for IOF tests have already decreased, in contrast with the headline message. 

This makes you wonder: would the Ethical Panel consider a potentially misleading headline in IOF news “good marketing” or a potential ethical violation?

No 2018 IOF AD report

The above decrease in AD numbers also makes it interesting that no 2018 IOF AD report has been published yet as of today (12 April 2019). If we look at previous years, the IOF appeared to be eager to publish the freshest AD numbers as fast as they could do it. One would have expected the IOF to publish the 2018 numbers as fast as possible in 2019 too. After all, they reported this blog to the Ethics Panel for raising questions about the athletes’ impression that the 2018 AD numbers were lower than in previous years. The best possible argument in the hands of the IOF was to show that the IOF AD numbers remained the same at the level of 2016-2017. Of course, only if they remained the same.

Here is the timeline of the past years:

  • 16 Dec 2016 – 2016 IOF AD report published
  • 1 Jan 2018 – 2017 IOF AD report published
  • 25 Sept 2018 – IOF reports this blog for questions about 2018 AD numbers
  • 12 Apr 2019 –               (still no 2018 IOF AD report)

Under normal circumstances this lack of 2018 AD report would look strange. After the launch of the Ethics Panel investigation in relation to the 2018 AD numbers it looks interesting. Very interesting.

Confirmed: less money spent on AD in 2018 than collected

Finally we have to mention an interesting little piece of information published in the January 2019 Council meeting minutes under Section 6:

IOF AD fund not used - Council meeting minutes Jan 2019

This makes it really interesting that the IOF has reported this blog to the Ethics Panel for writing about the impression that not all the money of the AD Fund was spent in 2018. The IOF could have easily answered the questions raised in the offending post. The IOF could have provided data showing that the impressions described in the post were wrong.

Instead of that, the IOF decided to launch an Ethics Panel investigation – and 4 months later they quietly admitted that the impressions and questions in the post had some good basis. Yet, apparently the IOF leadership did not even inform the Ethics Panel about this little admission in the Council minutes.

This may look very unfortunate. The Ethics Panel had to spend time and energy to look for information readily available in the IOF Office. Some may even consider this an embarrassing situation for the Ethics Panel. They started to ask questions and look for data late February 2019, when the January Council minutes with the answer was already published.

Is this considered to be an exemplary ethical behaviour by the IOF leadership?

Or does the IOF leadership think that after all asking questions about IOF AD activities is an ethical offence on its own?

–    *    –    *    –

As I stated  at the beginning, I am sure that there is a good explanation for the questions that may arise when one looks at these data. Unfortunately, they are far from being obvious. Let’s hope that the IOF provides a good explanation and reliable AD data in the near future.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the IOF leadership and the IOF Ethics Panel for their inspiration and motivation to dig deeper into the IOF AD data. Without them this post would not have been written.

3 thoughts on “More questions on IOF Anti-Doping activity”

  1. Sandor,
    It would also be interesting to know who was involved in the “unfortunate cancelling of some testing at the end of 2018”, and why. To my knowledge, no top-level events (foot, MTBO or ski) where cancelled or postponed, so one must assume the events took place, but without IC-testing. This, again, would play towards the athletes perceived lack of testing.
    If instead OOC-testing was cancelled: why? Maybe because the few remaining IOF-athletes in WADA ADAMS were unavailable for some reason, so the testing teams simply didn’t know where to go? Oh wait – I just realize that one athlete in the IOF Registered Testing Pool (lets call her Judith) ended her career last October – so maybe this made planned tests on her obsolete? (And why is Judith, 7 months after announcing her resignation from top-level orienteering, still listed in the IOF RTP?)
    Never would I dream of suggesting that the cancellation of some tests might have been done with the intention of creating some monetary reserve at the end of the year…
    Dear Sandor, don’t visit Salisbury, always wear gloves when touching your door-knob, and generally take care…

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    1. Simon,
      Yes, there are many more questions around IOF AD activities. I picked the ones above both for their relevance to the ongoing Ethics Panel investigation based on IOF reporting this blog, and because the understanding of these questions do not require any in-depth knowledge of anti-doping work.
      Thanks for your concerns! I love to live dangerously. That was probably one of the reasons why I switched from pedestrian orienteering to high speed MTBO 😉
      Aren’t you concerned that the Ethics Panel may be empowered by the IOF Code of Ethics to investigate comments to this blog, including a demand to WordPress to disclose the IP numbers the comments were received from? It is just a short stretch from investigating blogs.

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      1. Hi Sandor,
        You are right – I am absolutely petrified from fear that the IOF EC might ask WordPress for my data – especially as WordPress forced me to state a mail address when I submitted my comment. My only hope is that the extradition to Sweden might be avoided by visiting the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I believe a guest room was recently vacated there?
        Jokes aside: at least in the jurisdiction I live in, adherence to a code of ethics would need to be mutually agreed upon prior to becoming legally binding, similar to a contract. Having worked at over 10 Regional and World Championships in 3 IOF disciplines, not once did I sign (or agree by handshake, or even verbally discuss at all) on abidance to a code of anything – one single time I was requested to sign an NDA regarding maps and course information.

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