PARIS - The IAAF dismissed on Tuesday as "sensationalist and confusing" allegations of mass doping that have rocked the world of athletics in the build-up to this month's world championships in Beijing.
In its first official reaction to the affair, world athletics' governing body said it "strongly rejected" allegations of hundreds of suspicious blood tests from athletes. It insisted it was taking every possible measure to combat doping. "The published allegations were sensationalist and confusing," the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) declared in their much-anticipated statement.
Athletics' rulers contended there was no perfect system for catching drug cheats and boasted it "has been at the forefront of drug testing for many years". The IAAF's detailed and robust 4,000-word response follows three days of stormy headlines since the weekend allegations by German television channel ARD and British newspaper The Sunday Times.
They obtained a database of 12,000 tests taken on 5,000 athletes which revealed "extraordinary" levels of doping. Australian doping experts Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisot examined the results for ARD and the paper. They said one third of athletics medals in endurance events at world championships and Olympics between 2001 and 2012 had given suspicious tests. And they said that 800 athletes in disciplines from 800m to the marathon registered values considered suspicious or highly suspicious. The IAAF in reply said "the results referred to were not positive tests. "In fact, ARD and The Sunday Times both admit that their evaluation of the data did not prove doping."
It avowed that "under its pioneering Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) system, more athletes have been banned for cheating by the IAAF than all other sports federations and national anti-doping agencies put together". The organisation run by Senegal's Lamine Diack since 1999 pointed out that "a large proportion of these blood samples were collected in a period before the implementation of the ABP and cannot therefore be used as proof of doping". It also took a pot shot at World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who had said it was "very alarmed" by the new allegations. "The IAAF is surprised by WADA's comments, particularly given how closely it has worked with WADA over the entire period to try to advance the fight against blood doping, notably in assisting in the development and implementation of the ABP."
The IAAF also cited their own blood doping expert, Professor Giuseppe d'Onofrio, a leading expert in the field. "Ethically, I deplore public comments coming from colleagues on blood data that has been obtained and processed outside of the strict regulatory framework established by WADA which is designed to ensure a complete and fair review of ABP profiles," said Professor d'Onofrio.
"There is no space for shortcuts, simplistic approaches or sensationalism when athletes' careers and reputations are at stake" he added. The IAAF took issue with ARD and The Sunday Times' claims the tests were "secret". "The data on which the reports were based was not 'secret' - the IAAF published a detailed analysis of this data more than four years ago."
And it dismissed as "false, disappointing and misinformed journalism" any suggestion that the IAAF was "negligent in addressing or following up the suspicious profiles". Russia and Kenya - the two countries mainly targeted by the allegations - have also issued strong rebuttals. Kenya called the claims "libellous" while Russian athletics chief Vadim Zelichenok said they were based on "biased material, which isn't based on facts".
And on Monday, IOC president Thomas Bach vowed "zero tolerance" for any Olympics athletics results tainted by doping. In conclusion the IAAF insisted it had used "every possible tool" to target suspected dopers, declaring it had conducted more than 19,000 blood tests in the past 14 years. Since the Edmonton world championships in 2001, 141 athletes have tested positive for banned blood booster EPO. And there have been 150 suspicious cases concerning the biological passport since 2011, with 39 athletes sanctioned and 24 others awaiting their fates.
"We would be happy for our targeted testing programme to be compared to that of any other International Sporting Federation," the IAAF said.