Carlos Alcaraz: Tennis’ Next Great Champion?

Ciaran O’Mahony

As the dust settles on the 2021 season, a new tennis era beckons.

Yes, I know we’ve said that many times before.

“The Big Three are done, it’s time for them to step aside for the next generation.”

Remember that US Open in 2014? Cilic destroyed Federer on his way to the title, while Nishikori gave Djokovic a lesson to reach his first Grand Slam Final. All while Nadal was absent with a wrist injury.

The spell had finally been broken, we thought. New champions would emerge as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic faded into irrelevance.

But time and time again, these legends have refused to fold, setting new records and re-defining what was even possible.

Thus, my proclamation that a new era has arrived – and I really mean it this time – seems a little premature.

It seems incredibly premature when you consider that Novak Djokovic just came agonisingly close to a calendar-year Grand Slam. He was inches from sporting immortality.

But for my money, a new star emerged in New York and it wasn’t even the man who defeated Djokovic in the US Open final.

His name is Carlos Alcaraz.

To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Daniil Medvedev. He’s proven himself to be a great champion and I have no doubt that he has more Grand Slam titles ahead of him. Medvedev is now the benchmark for the next generation.

It won’t be long before he snatches Djokovic’s crown as world number one.

US Open Champion and world no. 2, Daniil Medvedev. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images

For so long, we thought Zverev or Tsitsipas would be the first players to break the Big Three’s dominance. They look the part and they have all of the style and tools.

But Medvedev, with his iron will and awkward groundstrokes, has delivered substance over style.

He will go down as a great champion, but there’s a rapidly rising Spaniard who appears to have a higher ceiling.

Why? Well, the kid has just about everything.

Standing at 6’1″, Alcaraz is 3-4 inches shorter than Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev. But what he lacks in height, he makes up for with pure firepower.

The 18 year old already strikes the ball cleaner and more destructively than most of the tour. He rips it with such spin and fury that renowned tennis coach, Patrick Mouratoglu said “I can’t remember who is the last player that I have seen hitting the ball so hard.”

His forehand and backhand are equally lethal, leaving his opponents almost permanently on the back foot, with little chance of relief.

Defensively, Alcaraz is just as sound, using his speed and slices to neutralise his opponents’ attacks.

While Medvedev is easily one of tennis’ most renowned brick walls, I doubt he’d beat Alcaraz in a 20 yard dash.

Of course, that’s not everything. There’s plenty to be said for anticipation and a player’s ability to construct a point. But seriously, look at this hustle below. Not to mention his poise and reaction time.

Note how quickly Alcaraz turned defence into attack in this clip. It’s a skill very few players possess.

Alcaraz’s athleticism is unmatched, with the Spaniard sliding around the court and producing acrobatic forms of defence that would make a gymnast – or even Novak Djokovic – proud.

Still only a teenager, Alcaraz has the physical build of a prime Rafael Nadal. A comparison that will no doubt, be repeated ad nauseam.

When he’s not bludgeoning the ball for clean winners, he’s utilising abrupt changes of pace to change the course of a point.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a stunning breakthrough season, rising from 141 in the world, all the way up to 32.

He’s made plenty of history along the way.

In April, he became the youngest match winner in the history of the Madrid Open, with a win over Adrian Mannarino.

At the French Open, he claimed a major scalp in 28th seed, Nikoloz Basilashvilli, before he was eliminated in the 3rd round.

He rebounded with his first ATP title at the Croatia Open, adding further notches to his belt such as Filip Krajinovic and Richard Gasquet. This victory made him the youngest tour-level champion since 2008.

But it’s at the US Open where Alcaraz really showed his mettle.

He destroyed 26th seed Cameron Norrie in the 1st round, before overcoming the talented Arthur Rinderknech in four sets.

However, his 3rd round clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas gave us a true window into his potential.

We’d seen him beat good players, even hit them off the court. But a Top 3 player at a Grand Slam? In 24,000 seater stadium? This was a different level.

Alcaraz overpowered Tsitsipas early, but the most impressive aspect of the match was that when Stefanos found a new gear, so did the 18 year old.

It was an up and down performance that featured some dips in energy and consistency, but never a drop of the shoulders. He showed the maturity and composure of a veteran.

He was brave and relentless, treating the crowd to some audacious shotmaking.

Over 5 sets, every time Tsitsipas raised the bar, Alcaraz met the challenge, eventually triumphing in a fifth set tiebreak.

Tsitsipas seemed stunned in the aftermath. “[His] ball speed was incredible,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard. [It] took time to adjust.”

He went on to become the US Open’s youngest quarter finalist ever, and the youngest player to defeat a Top-3 seed.

When you look at the highlights above, you have to ask yourself. If Alcaraz is this good already, how good will he be in two years?

As he continues to grow into his frame, his strength, fitness and mental fortitude, will only deepen. So too, will his tennis IQ and capacity to perform under pressure.

Many experts have analysed his game and found few weaknesses. He even has brilliant touch at the net.

Andy Murray has called Alcaraz a future world number one, marvelling at his physicality.

“He hits the ball really hard from the back of the court, and I’d probably say like physically, I don’t really like comparing like myself to other young players, but if I think back to when I was 18 in comparison to him, from a physical perspective he is unbelievably strong,” Murray told Chris Oddo.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he did really well in a Slam and was able to win long matches, like long five-set matches, already. A lot of younger players when they are 18, 19, are not physically ready for that. I’d say that’s probably the thing that sort of stands out, physically he seems, very, very strong.”

“He is obviously an excellent mover around the court as well, so that’s a big positive.”

Former Doubles Champion and Tennis analyst, Todd Woodbridge, provided further insights into the regard with which the tour holds the Spaniard.

During Channel Nine’s coverage of the US Open, he said “the word around the locker room and the playing group is that this kid is the closest thing to Rafa since Nadal came along.”

“You get one of these players every 15 years. We had Michael Chang in my era, or Lleyton Hewitt a bit later,” Woodbridge said. “This era has been cruel, because the younger players haven’t been able to break through against the Big Three.

“But this young guy has the chance to be the next dominant player, that’s what the whisper is around the tennis community.”

Carlos Alcaraz celebrates his victory at the Next Gen Finals. Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

Under the guidance of Juan Carlos Ferrero, a strong coach and former champion himself, the sky appears to be the limit.

Alcaraz finished the year in style by clinching the Next Gen ATP Finals title, and if I’m any judge, he’ll need to invest in a bigger trophy cabinet soon.

Aussie Olympic samples still clean after re-testing

By Ciaran O’Mahony

One hundred blood and urine samples from Australia’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls have been re-tested and given the “all clear” by Sport Integrity Australia.

The samples were collected from July 2013 to September 2016 and placed in long-term storage.

A recent re-analysis by the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory returned zero positive results from these randomly selected samples.

SIA’s Chief Science Officer, Dr Naomi Speer, says re-testing is essential in the fight against doping, particularly as anti-doping bodies are often playing catch up with new methods of avoiding detection.  

“It enables us to take advantage of advances in scientific knowledge and capability to detect doping which wasn’t detectable at the time a sample was collected,” she says.

Prior to Tokyo 2020, SIA and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) told The Jaded Newsman that re-testing would be a major tool in their fight against athletes who used performance enhancing drugs during Covid-19 lockdowns.

“Some athletes take smaller amounts in the hope that they will be undetectable, which is why we utilise the Athlete Biological Passport and Retrospective Testing,” said SIA’s CEO David Sharpe.

David Sharpe, CEO Sport Integrity Australia. Photo: SIA Facebook Page.

“All athletes would be very familiar with the IOC’s re-testing program which has proved successful in back-capturing drug cheats by using new technologies to detect past infringements,” the AOC told us.  

“That program will continue to be a deterrent to anyone who might think they can use the pandemic to escape detection.”

WADA and the International Testing Agency (ITA) echoed this sentiment.

“The samples collected prior to and during the Games will be stored for up to 10 years and re-analysed at a later point in time when technology and analysis will further advance,” said ITA spokesperson Marta Nawrocka.

Over the 12 months prior to Tokyo, SIA collected 2,541 samples from Australian athletes in contention for the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Under the World Anti-doping Code, athletes can be disciplined within 10 years of the date a doping violation occurred.  

Irish speed walker Rob Heffernan was a beneficiary of this rule, retrospectively receiving Olympic bronze, four years after competing at the London Olympics.

His message to prospective dopers is simple. “Athletes need to know if they cheat, they will be caught.”

Opinion: What Happened to Football’s ‘Number 10’?

By Ciaran O’Mahony

The ‘number 10’ has been the most important position in football for years.

Some of the most gifted footballers we’ve ever seen played there. Zidane, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Platini, Eusebio – The list goes on.

But while we’ve been distracted by Ronaldo and Messi’s record-setting performances, football has changed.

Slowly, but surely, the number 10 has been disappearing.

What is a No. 10?

As the team’s primary playmaker, the ‘number 10’ operates in a free role between the midfield and the forwards. They lead the attack, using their vision, control and passing range to dictate the play.

‘Number 10’s’ are responsible for unlocking the opposition’s defence by playing their wingers and forwards through on goal and finding space to score themselves. In many ways, they are the attacking heartbeat of the team.

All of the mid-to-late twentieth century’s most successful teams were built around such a playmaker.

Zinedine Zidane. Photo: Pool MERILLON/STEVENS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images


The tactical evolution of the game has played a major part in the number 10’s demise. The most common modern formations (4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1) do not accomodate the position.

The midfield in a 4-3-3 system usually consists of two advanced midfielders (left and right) and a deeper-lying defensive midfielder. The defensive midfielder occupies the central space traditionally reserved for the classic ‘number 10’.

While the 4-2-3-1 allows attacking midfielders to flourish, it doesn’t rely on one player to make the team tick. Some might say that teams with this system have three ‘number 10’s’, but that goes against the whole purpose of the position.

There is only space for one ‘true’ number 10, rather than three out and out playmakers.

Congested Midfield

It’s almost impossible to play a ‘number 10’ against modern formations because the centre of the park is so congested. Three-man midfields have taken away the space where they used to thrive. Modern managers are also reluctant to rely on one player to conduct their team’s attack.

Their logic is that if their ‘luxury player’ has an off-day or a dip in form, the entire team will suffer.

This mentality doesn’t exactly give modern players the confidence to back themselves and be creative.

Photo: Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images

Why is This a Problem?

Within these formations, many players that previously played behind a front two are now being used as wingers or played up front either as a striker or a ‘false nine’. Some of them have the pace to shine as wingers, while others can still operate effectively up front.

But many talented players lacking in pace or ill-suited to playing up front are being denied the opportunity to dictate attacks as playmakers.

These players are being wasted in the modern game, either on the bench or in another position.

The Case of Juan Roman Riquelme

Juan Roman Riquelme’s career is an excellent example of a good ‘number 10’ being wasted. The Argentinian was a silky playmaker with exceptional vision, intelligence and passing ability. He emerged when the speed of the game was changing rapidly and teams were beginning to experiment with their formations.

In a previous era, Riquelme would have been hot property, but when he arrived at Barcelona, Louis Van Gaal had no interest in playing a ‘number 10’.

Riquelme was given little game time and regularly played out of position. His lack of pace, trickery and ability to play directly, were badly exposed.

It was clear that Riquelme had been played out of position when Barcelona sold him to lowly Villarreal. The “Yellow Submarine” allowed him to roam the space between the midfield and the strikers, and find holes in the opposition’s defence.

Juan Roman Riquelme. Photo: Luis Bagu/Getty Images

The team found immediate success, finishing as high as third in the league in 2004/05. Riquelme scored 15 goals and helped Diego Forlan win the European Golden Boot that season.

He looked like a completely different player. Suddenly, we realised he was world-class.

We may never have known how good he actually was if he hadn’t found a team that was willing to play him in his best position.

Is the ‘Number 10’ Dead?

The ‘number 10’ isn’t completely extinct yet. There are still some great players out there who are arguably keeping the position alive such as James Rodriguez, Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata.

It seems likely that many young players will suffer a similar fate to Riquelme, though, and they are even less likely to get the second chance he got at Villarreal.

Sadly, many technically gifted youngsters destined to be the next Eusebio or Dennis Bergkamp may never get the chance to show their true quality.

Athlete Confidence in Anti-Doping Plummets During Pandemic

By Ciaran O’Mahony

Sports Federations insist Covid-19 lockdowns won’t stop them catching dopers. But athletes are less optimistic, according to recent surveys.

The results of Global Athlete’s “Return to Play Survey” show that many international athletes are concerned their counterparts “will use this time to dope.”

The organisation’s Director-General, Rob Koehler, says the survey asked athletes about the effects of Covid-19 on their lives. Doping was top of their list of concerns.

“We heard from 375 Athletes from 23 countries representing all continents, and from 49 summer [Olympic] and 18 winter [Olympic] sports,” says Koehler.

“The majority of athletes were concerned with the lack of doping controls during the pandemic, while also indicating that they felt some athletes will take advantage of the lack of doping control,” he says.

“We recognize the sample base may not reflect the voice of the entire athlete community but it does give us some insight,” according to Koehler.

Of the 375 athletes surveyed, 63% identified as female, 36% as male and 1% as other. They have also competed at the highest levels of professional sport such as – 28% Olympic/Paralympics, 46% World Championships, 11% World Cups and 15% national competitions.

Here’s how they felt about doping control during the pandemic:

How concerned are you with the lack of doping controls during the pandemic?

  • 19% Extremely concerned
  • 25% Very concerned
  • 21% Moderately concerned
  • 14% Slightly concerned
  • 19% No concerned at all

With the lack of doping control, how likely do you believe it is that some athletes in your sport discipline will be to use this time to dope?

  • 25% Extremely likely
  • 30% Somewhat likely
  • 16% Neither likely nor unlikely
  • 17% Somewhat unlikely
  • 12% Extremely unlikely

These results follow the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s study, which anonymously surveyed 1400 American athletes in 2020. Over 50% of these athletes believed their international competitors would take advantage of significant dips in doping tests during the Covid-19 pandemic. As many as 30% believed their compatriots would do the same.

Photo: Julien Hekimian/Sygma via Getty Images

Despite these statistics, International Testing Agency (ITA) spokeswoman Marta Nawrocka insists their anti-doping program “is not a frail system that has come to a halt because of the effects of the pandemic.”

The ITA is leading anti-doping for the Tokyo Olympics, and is administering tests on a “country by country” basis to strike a balance between “public health first and anti-doping efforts second,” according to Nawrocka.

“Our absolute priority continues to be the protection of the health of all athletes and doping control personnel,” Nawrocka says.

“There were very few competitions taking place since past spring and so In-Competition testing numbers significantly dropped, we continued to implement our Out-Of-Competition testing program throughout the past year and continue to do so now,” she says.

“Periods without competitions or access to athletes for testing purposes will be taken into account once sports events start taking place again.”

Many international sports events have been cancelled or postponed since March 2020, causing a significant decrease of “in-competition” testing. Numerous out-of-competition testing missions were also suspended due to Government restrictions. This is evident in WADA statistics obtained by The Jaded Newsman, which show a nearly 50% decrease in drug testing last year.

Total Drug tests completed around the world. Source: WADA

But there was a testing resurgence in late-2020 and Ms Nawrocka says the ITA is pleased with their achievements given the challenges they faced.

“Overall, the drop in the out-of-competition testing numbers that we implemented for our partners in 2020 was less than 10%, which is a solid result considering the circumstances,” she says.

All mid-pandemic testing has been conducted using stringent sanitary protocols for athletes’ safety, according to Nawrocka.

“The current situation is definitely challenging and requires flexible approaches, but it does not mean that anti-doping actors are left empty handed. We still have a solid array of approaches to catch cheats,” she says.

These alternatives include risk assessment, intelligence, investigations, Athlete Biological Passport administration, Therapeutic Use Exemption management, results management and anti-doping education.

Olympic champion Callum Skinner isn’t surprised by athletes’ scepticism, but says we must give everyone the benefit of the doubt during this period, unless clear evidence emerges.

“Of course it’s a worry, testing rates have plummeted,” says Skinner.

The Scottish Cyclist, who won Gold and Silver Medals at the 2016 Olympics, has no doubt that doping occurs at the top level.

But he knows that many athletes compete clean and don’t deserve to perform under a cloud of suspicion as sports return.

“The system wasn’t water tight before and it isn’t now,” according to Skinner.

“I tend to stay away from accusing people with no evidence, we have plenty of confirmed cases to give our attention to that are mismanaged,” Skinner says.

“We’re in the unknown so I’d encourage people to measure their scepticism on a case by case basis,” he says.

Callum Skinner celebrates his Olympic achievements at the Team GB victory parade. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Fellow Cycling medallist Alexander Kolobnev is less concerned about pandemic doping.

Kolobnev finished in 4th place at the Beijing Olympics, but was later awarded a Bronze medal after Davide Rebellin was stripped of his silver medal upon re-testing of blood and urine samples.

Dopers have always been out there, according to Kolobnev, but the pandemic will not exacerbate the problem.

He says testing will increase significantly in the final 100 days before the Olympics and “stupid cheaters” will not be able to maintain “top shape”.

Russian Cyclist and Olympic Bronze Medallist, Alexander Kolobnev. Photo: Pascal Pavani/Getty Images

“[Doping] has sense only if you [are] competing and not sitting in [a] sofa or do[ing] your virtual races,” Kolobnev says.

“Of course there will always be 1-4% of crazy or weak athletes who could use prohibited substance[s] or methods, but they always were,” he says.

“It’s part of the game. Find them and kick them out.”

As anti-doping bodies continue to adjust to Covid-19 restrictions, testing gaps and blind spots are increasing.

Have Dopers Escaped Detection During Covid-19 Lockdowns?

By Ciaran O’Mahony

Rob Heffernan is an Olympic Bronze medallist, but he has never stood on the coveted Olympic podium.

At London 2012, years of grinding through Ireland’s damp, scenic landscape drove Heffernan to a 4th place finish in the 50 km race walk.

He had fallen agonisingly short of Olympic glory. But rumours swirled that the man who took Gold – Sergey Kirdyapkin – was part of a state sponsored doping program.

Four years after returning to Ireland empty-handed, Heffernan was awarded Olympic Bronze in a special ceremony at City Hall, Cork. Kirdyapkin had been stripped of his title after failing multiple drug tests.

Rob Hefferan finally receives his Olympic Bronze medal in November 2016. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

“To take a medal for Ireland in front of Buckingham palace was such an incredible feeling. It was great to take something back for the injustice that we have suffered over time by wrong doing. A small victory, [but] nonetheless a victory,” Heffernan says.

While his heroic performance in London was eventually rewarded, Heffernan is in little doubt that he’s been cheated out of other major honours.

“I have suffered more throughout my career to dopers,” Heffernan says.

“There are [other] medals and better positions that I should have now but there is nothing I can do about it.”

He tries not to dwell on these injustices as they will inevitably lead to anger and misery.

“You would be angry and frustrated as your life can be drastically different when your results are better on paper. I try not to waste too much energy thinking about these negative scenarios,” he says.

But with the Tokyo Olympics looming, sports fans could be forgiven for wondering if Covid-19 lockdowns have allowed ‘drug cheats’ to thrive.

Sport has rightly been scaled back as we’ve battled a virus that has taken over 2.1 million lives to date. But pandemic restrictions have also forced National Anti-doping Organisations (NADOs) to limit or completely suspend doping tests for extended periods.

The Jaded Newsman obtained WADA’s latest international testing figures – and they are alarming.

WADA Anti-doping Tests – 2019 vs 2020

Annual Total305,881167,759

In 2019, 305,881 blood and urine samples were collected by NADOs around the world. But in a pandemic hit 2020, they collected just 167,759.

From March to August 2020, monthly testing figures were over 50% lower than the previous year. In April and May, in particular, there were 97.8% and 91.4% dips. 

Although testing increased in subsequent months, it was consistently lower, and more lockdowns in late 2020 and early 2021 have further weakened doping operations.  

Numerous NADOs told us their testing had been significantly effected:

  • Doping Authority Netherlands’ testing has dropped by 40% during the pandemic and with all sports except football currently suspended there, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon.
  • National Anti-doping Agency (NADA) Germany have maintained strong out-of-competition testing, but in-competition testing has taken a major hit. There was a complete suspension of all testing from mid-March to mid-May 2020.   
  • The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) didn’t test their athletes from March 27 to July 13 (resumption of urine collection) and October 26 (resumption of blood collection). Three quarters into their fiscal year, testing numbers are one-third lower.
  • The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s* (ASADA) annual report for the 2019/20 financial year showed a 20% fall in testing on the previous year – from 5,523 samples to 4,414. However, state lockdowns extended well past this timeline.
  • The United States Anti-doping Authority (USADA) is yet to release lockdown testing figures, but they reduced their operations to “mission critical testing” during the Spring of 2020, while United Kingdom Anti-doping’s (UKAD) April-June figures show an almost 95% drop from 2019 (2,212 to 126 tests).  

*ASADA was replaced by Sport Integrity Australia at the end of the financial year

How will this affect clean sport?

President of Doping Authority Netherlands, Herman Ram, says “the impact of Covid-19 on our testing program has been, and still is, huge.”  

Ram cautions that it would be unfair to assume that athletes are taking advantage of reduced testing, but he concedes that he “would prefer to have more proof to support this.”

USADA CEO, Travis Tygart, knows that many athletes were doping before the pandemic and he has no doubt that some will view this period as a window of opportunity.

“The temptation to dope rises when there is a less likely chance of being caught due to known, reduced testing,” says Tygart.

Travis Tygart, President of USADA. Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Studies have shown that minor doses of PEDs taken during “off-peak” periods can be undetectable in urine or blood samples a year later. But they can provide performance-enhancing benefits for up to 4 years.

For example, the most common PED detected by NADOs is anabolic steroids. A study by Scientists at the University of Oslo suggests that these substances can provide muscle boosts that potentially last for decades. Athletes would therefore reap the benefits long after the steroids were detectable in their system.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand CEO, Nick Paterson, is concerned that the problem may have intensified, but stresses that the vast majority of athletes will not be swayed one way or the other by recent events.

“The lower amount of testing in 2020 certainly means that both detection and deterrence has dropped off,” Paterson says.

“However, just because a storekeeper turns her back or takes a call when you’re in a shop, does not mean you immediately start stealing their goods, does it? Most people have better ethics than that,” he says.

Some research suggests that many don’t. Olivier de Hon, Harm Kuipers and Maarten van Bottenburg conducted a comprehensive review of academic studies on the prevalence of doping up to 2015. Their review found that between 14-39% of anonymously surveyed athletes were doping – much higher than the 1-2% who failed drug tests during this period.

Another study conducted randomised response surveys of 1,203 athletes at the IAAF World Athletics Championships (South Korea) and 965 athletes at the Pan Arab Games (Qatar).  They revealed that over 30-43% of the WAC athletes had admitted to doping within the last 12 months, with over 45-57% of the PAG athletes doing the same. The findings were so controversial that their publication was blocked for 6 years.  

Photo: Patrik Stollarz/Bongarts/Getty Images

While it’s clear that many athletes were already doping. The question is, has that number increased? And could the impacts on testing help them get away with it?

Paterson highlights certain barriers to entry regardless of athletes’ intent.

“If you have been a clean athlete and prior to 2020 were not doping, where would you suddenly get supplies from and how?”

“Purchasing prohibited substances is not as easy as placing an on-line grocery order,” says Paterson. “Many of the athletes doping during this period are therefore likely to have already been cheating or well on the path to do[ing] so.”

Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) CEO, David Sharpe, holds a similar view – “Athletes willing to cheat or win at any cost will always look for ways to cheat, whether that be through advancement in science, unethical practices or during periods where testing may be limited.”

NADA Germany says the uncertainty around the return of competitions could result in immediate and unexpected spikes in testing, making it extremely difficult for athletes to schedule comprehensive doping programs in lockdown.

“PEDs are only relevant if you train for a goal. As many competitions are cancelled and athletes do not know when testing is back. Out-of-competition schemes are in place and will start without any further notice. The unpredictability of the system is a decisive advantage for testing authorities,” they say.

WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald says major physical gains are also unattainable due to the closure of training facilities.

“Most performance-enhancing drugs work in conjunction with high-quality, strenuous training and, with COVID-related restrictions and lockdowns in place, many athletes do not have access to their normal training facilities. This mitigates the risk of athletes deciding to cheat.”

Nonetheless, NADOs hope to resume blood and urine testing at previous levels ASAP.

In most cases, that won’t be possible for some time, but New Zealand is a rare exception. From mid-March to June 10 – and briefly in August 2020 – they had a strict lockdown and testing was suspended for 11 weeks. Nevertheless, they collected 1,061 samples by the end of the financial year, against a target of 1,350 samples.

But countries like The Netherlands are up against it, according to Mr Ram. “We will be in lockdown for at least another four weeks,” he says.

“Once the lockdown is ended, it will still take some time to restart them [and] our government is discussing a curfew.”

NADOs have emphasised that drug tests are not the only tool available to catch dopers. They have invested significantly in anti-doping education programs, and intelligence/whistleblower investigation teams – to catch drug cheats who are beating the tests.

“Any effective anti-doping program cannot be reliant solely on testing,” says SIA’s David Sharpe.

He explains that Intelligence helps NADOs decide:

  • Which athletes to test and when to test them
  • Which sports are most at risk of doping
  • What emerging substances pose a threat to athlete health and sport integrity.
David Sharpe, CEO of Sport Integrity Australia. Source: Sport Integrity Australia, Facebook page.

Athlete Biological Passports (ABPs) are another crucial weapon. They are developed through a sequence of tests that provide longitudinal biological profiles of each athlete. ABPs provide a specific reference range for key biological variables in athletes’ blood and urine and can therefore detect unusual results even when PEDs are no longer in an athlete’s system.

The storage and re-analysis of long-term blood and urine samples will also help to uncover irregularities in the future, according to the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

“All athletes would be very familiar with the IOC’s re-testing program which has proved successful in back-capturing drug cheats by using new technologies to detect past infringements,” says the AOC.

“The AOC doesn’t believe drug cheats can take any comfort from the impact of the pandemic on anti-doping programs.”

As a beneficiary of re-testing, Rob Heffernan has a clear message for athletes who might be tempted to dope during this tumultuous period.

“Athletes need to know if they cheat, they will be caught. And if you do cheat, I feel if its conclusive, you should be banned for life – no second chances.”