Science & technology
Sport and drugs
Still doped up
Thousands of athletes at the Tokyo Olympics are likely to be doping. How many will get caught remains to be seen
As Olympics go, the 2020 games, scheduled to start in Tokyo on July 23rd, are shaping up to be among the strangest in the competition's history. Because of covid-19, even their name is out of date, for they are taking place a year late. And contagion-prevention means most stadiums will be empty of spectators, so events will take place in funereal silence.
The 2020 games will be unusual in another way, too. They will be the first summer games since 1984's—which were boycotted by the Soviet Union—at which Russia will not be present, at least officially. Though some of its athletes will participate as individuals, under the flag of the Russian Olympic Committee, the national team has been banned in the aftermath of one of the biggest doping scandals in the history of sport. Between 2011 and 2015, and possibly for longer, Russia systematically doped hundreds of athletes. It roped in its spy agencies to subvert the anti-doping tests overseen by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), then fabricated data as part of an attempt to get back into the authorities' good books. A controversial court ruling last year reduced Russia's initial four-year ban to two, which will expire in 2022.
Stung by a scandal that took place under their noses, officials insist this year's games will be the best-policed ever. The International Olympic Committee says testing in the run-up to them will be the most extensive yet conducted. Sebastian Coe, president of Word Athletics, the international governing body of athletes, has warned that it will be harder than ever to get away with doping.
"Harder than ever" is, however, a long way from "impossible". Though new technology and increasingly strict rules have indeed made doping trickier than in the past, thousands of the 11,000-odd athletes at the Tokyo games could nonetheless be cheating. Steroids, erythropoietin (EPO) and newer, less familiar performance-enhancing drugs (PEDS) will have bulked their muscles, enriched their blood and allowed them to train harder than unenhanced humans would find possible. New drugs, clever tactics and institutional indifference or corruption could meanwhile help them outwit testers.