Australian Blood Experts From ARD/Sunday Times Report Respond To Serious Reservations Expressed By IAAF

  • submit to reddit

Press Release
August 5, 2015

Blood experts, Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto, respond to serious reservations expressed by IAAF in relation to The Sunday Times investigation into blood doping in athletics.

Overview

We note the concerns raised by the IAAF with regard to the analyses we undertook of the data. We have rebutted each and every one of their so-called ‘serious reservations’. The pre-2009 data is reliable, in fact by their own admission the IAAF has relied on those data to extend sanctions against athletes. We followed the same procedure as IAAF expert panelists when reviewing ABP profiles, classifying results as ‘likely doping’ when we were able to confidently exclude all other potential causes or instead ‘suspicious’ when there was genuine evidence of blood manipulation however further investigation such as target testing would have been required. And for the avoidance of doubt, we based our judgments on the entire blood test profile for the athlete not just on individual scores. We stand by the evaluations we submitted to Sunday Times and ARD/WDR.

General response to the IAAF media release

A detailed response is included as an addendum, but we make the following general observations.

‘It is unscientific to compare data collected prior to 2009’

‘The scientists had no authority to comment because of their lack of knowledge of the IAAF programme…it was pure guesswork’

  • Since 2011 Robin Parisotto has been retained by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to review blood profiles of their elite track and field athletes. Consequently, he is currently providing expert opinion to multiple disciplinary proceedings involving IAAF athletes.
  • Michael Ashenden was a member of the WADA Passport Committee that devised targeting strategies for international federations such as the IAAF to adopt.
  • Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto were both founding members of the UCI’s Expert Panel, they have each provided expert testimony to disciplinary cases before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and have both advised anti-doping organisations on how to undertake target testing of athletes suspected of blood doping.

Professor Giuseppe d’Onofrio’s statement: ‘In particular, one should refrain from making any authoritative conclusion on individual cases on the basis of a one-off value, let alone when this value has been collected before the formal introduction of the ABP in 2009’

  • Many years before the standardisations he referred to were implemented, Prof d’Onofrio interpreted ‘raw data’ (in particular, medical documents seized during raids on the Juventus club offices in 1998) and felt sufficiently comfortable interpreting those ‘raw data’ to reach a conclusion that he was “practically certain” they had taken EPO.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-drug-scandal-that-blackens-the-name-of-juves-team-of-the-nineties-6156776.html
  • When an abnormal result was present, the entire profile for the athlete was extracted from the data base and evaluated in its entirety;
  • We consider that the comparatively conservative conclusion we reached of ‘likely doping’ was warranted, given that the data we interpreted had been collected under the stringent IAAF Blood Testing Protocol.

Concluding remarks

We note that when the IAAF analysed the same raw data reported on by Sunday Times and ARD/WDR, they felt the data were sufficiently reliable for them to publish their conclusion that increased blood values “most probably implicated a doping behaviour” (see Clinical Chemistry Vol 57 no. 5 p765). We draw no distinction between the terminology used by IAAF and ourselves.

Finally, we note the IAAF’s confirmation that the database is “not a secret or hidden document in any way” and that the IAAF welcomes the opportunity to present to the Independent Commission. We therefore call on the IAAF to give a public undertaking that it will immediatelyshare the entire database with Dick Pound’s independent review.

Addendum

A detailed response to each of the serious reservations expressed by the IAAF is included below.

  1. The two scientists should never have accepted to review blood data.
    We acknowledge that the views on how much assistance should be provided to whistleblowers are contentious. We each sought a concrete undertaking from Sunday Times and ARD/WDR that our opinions on individual athletes would never be disclosed. In other words, we insisted on the same protections for individual athletes as the IAAF afforded to athletes when they published their own prevalence findings in 2011.
  2. They sought to draw conclusions on the prevalence of blood doping in athletics today based on suspicious blood values that were collected up to 14 years ago.
    We agree. Similarly, the IAAF sought to draw conclusions on the prevalence of blood doping in 2001, which was ten years after they published their findings. We do not see the distinction between those two scenarios.
  3. The data reviewed by the scientists is now outdated.
    That is arguable because some athletes are still competing. Nevertheless, that does not prevent the interpretation of blood data from 2001-2012, which is what we performed.
  4. They sought to raise suspicions of blood doping on the basis of an analysis of the raw data only (including data collected prior to the introduction of the ABP) and in the absence of all the related information that is necessary for a rigorous interpretation of the results.
    The IAAF analysed the exact same ‘raw data’ in their 2011 publication, when they felt comfortable drawing the conclusion “most probably implicated a doping behaviour” from elevated blood values in those raw data. The terminology we applied was “likely doping” which in every material way is entirely consistent with the IAAF’s terminology.
  5. It is unscientific in the context of the current ABP system to seek to compare data that has been collected prior to 2009 (from samples that were not collected or analysed in a standardised manner) and data collected after 2009 that is derived from samples collected and analysed in accordance with the strict criteria of the WADA ABP Operating Guidelines.
  • In fact, all samples in the data base were collected and analysed in a standardised manner. This is confirmed by the IAAF in the Supplemental Data which accompanied the online publication of their 2011 article. Specifically, “Blood samples in the database were collected, transported and analysed following the IAAF Blood Testing Protocol” (see p1).
    http://www.clinchem.org/content/57/5/762/suppl/DC1
  • As the IAAF attests in their media release, they specifically set out to ensure their blood tests were reliable. As the IAAF media release states: “The IAAF Blood Testing Protocol indeed eventually formed the outline basis for the WADA Guidelines which were adopted in 2009.”(see p6).
  • It is our opinion that the results were collected under a sufficiently standardised procedure to permit a valid scientific analysis of the data.
  1. There is no clear indication of the number of suspicious profiles reviewed by the scientists that actually resulted in the IAAF concluding Adverse Analytical or Adverse Passport Findings.
    We each assessed the data independently and forwarded our conclusions to the Sunday Times who collated our data. The Sunday Times then cross matched athletes with their competition results and any history of sanctions.
  2. The scientists had no authority to comment on whether or not the IAAF had followed up on suspicious samples because of a lack of knowledge of the IAAF programme and a lack of experience in the field of Athletics generally. It was pure guesswork on their part.
  • Since 2011 Robin Parisotto has been retained by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to review blood profiles of their elite track and field athletes. Consequently, he is currently providing expert opinion to multiple disciplinary proceedings involving IAAF athletes.
  • Michael Ashenden was a member of the WADA Passport Committee that devised targeting strategies for international federations such as the IAAF to adopt.
  • Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto were both founding members of the UCI’s Expert Panel, they have each provided expert testimony to disciplinary cases before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and have both advised anti-doping organisations on how to undertake target testing of athletes suspected of blood doping.
  1. Professor Giuseppe d’Onofrio’s comments as to the dangers of comparing pre and post-2009 data.
  • The IAAF compares pre and post-2009 data when they use blood values prior to 2009 as “secondary evidence” in support of an increased sanction in addition to the post-2009 profile to establish the athlete’s long history of doping;
  • In our opinion, if the data are sufficiently valid to increase a sanction, then they are also sufficiently valid to draw a conclusion about ‘likely’ blood doping.

Overview of how blood profiles were evaluated

  • The data base comprised key blood results such as haemoglobin and reticulocyte levels, from which the OFF score was calculated;
  • Sorting the data according to these key variables quickly flagged those results that exceeded published thresholds utilised by anti-doping authorities to designate results as abnormal. Such results indicate the possible use of blood doping;
  • When an abnormal result was present, the entire profile for the athlete was extracted from the data base and evaluated in its entirety;
  • When potential medical and physiological factors that can affect the key blood profiles could confidently be excluded, the athlete was flagged as ‘likely blood doping’;
  • Results that were flagged as ‘suspicious’ represented genuine evidence of potential doping, but other factors such as medical or physiological conditions could not be confidently ruled out. Such profiles required further investigation, such as targeted testing, to determine whether blood doping had indeed taken place.
  • These two categories (‘likely blood doping’ and ‘suspicious’) are equivalent to the designations that IAAF expert panelists are asked to submit when ‘raw data’ in ABP profiles containing abnormal results are sent for expert review.

In summary, the analyses undertaken on behalf of Sunday Times and ADR/WDR followed the same underpinning principle which the IAAF Anti-Doping Commission members adopted for the publication of their prevalence findings in 2011. Namely, that large fluctuations within an athlete’s profile may provide strong evidence of blood manipulation.

Specifically, every athlete was assessed in terms of their entire blood profile. Appropriate weighting was afforded to results in light of the standard of blood collection at the time the sample was collected. Further, as attested to by the IAAF’s published article, it was possible to make an allowance for altitude where necessary because the altitude of the testing location depicted in the database followed a distribution similar to that of the altitude of the training location.

Michael Ashenden

Robin Parisotto


Advertisement


Never miss running news.

Sent once a week or when breaking news breaks.
(We don't spam or sell our list)