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WADA says biological passport works despite latest scandal

Anti-doping officials say athletes caught in latest police sting had suspicious biological passport results, reinforcing the system's reliability.

Officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency insist that the biological passport is working despite raids that have uncovered an alleged blood-doping ring in Austria and Germany.

WADA officials told AFP that all but one of the athletes involved in the alleged ring had been red-flagged with suspicious blood profiles.

“We have at least seven athletes identified [since the beginning of the case],” Olivier Rabin, science officer at WADA, told AFP. “These [biological] passports were not normal, some had been identified as suspicious, others with strong presumptions of blood manipulations.”

Rabin did not reveal which athletes had been red-flagged. Two Austrian pro cyclists — Stefan Denifl (ex-Aqua Blue) and Georg Preidler (Groupama-FDJ) — were detained by officials along with five Nordic skiers last month. Rabin revealed that in the case of one of the athletes, the biological passport did not contain enough data to reveal suspicions. That could have been Preidler, who told police that he had only extracted blood, but had yet to re-inject it.

The biological passport, which uses markers in blood profiles to spot possible manipulation, has come under fire following the alleged doping ring in Germany and Austria. Some fear that would-be cheaters have learned how to evade passport detection by using such methods as micro-dosing with smaller but still effective doses of EPO, for instance.

Rabin defended the biological passport as an effective deterrent and vowed that the anti-doping organization is closely following developments in the case.

“We know that the tool worked because it identified these athletes as having abnormal profiles,” Rabin told AFP. “Beyond that, we have to see what has been done with this information.”

The biological passport can be used to hand down competition bans — the most recent case involved Spanish pro Jaime Roson — and as a tool to better target anti-doping controls against a suspected athlete. Rabin said that WADA had not yet reached the threshold to impose bans on the suspected athletes, but insisted that anti-doping authorities had the profiles on their watchlist.

This new blood-doping case, which started in January with the televised confession of Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Dürr on the German TV channel ARD, triggered a wave of arrests in late February in Germany and Austria, including arrests that coincided with the world Nordic ski championships in Seefeld, Austria. Five cross-country skiers were arrested, while the German police detained the sports doctor suspected of organizing the network, Mark Schmidt, who was already implicated in previous doping cases in cycling.

Later, Preidler and Denifl were also involved, drawing a quick negative reaction from many inside the peloton. All athletes have been released but suspended by their respective federations.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report