Tokyo 2021 #1YearToGo

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There is no doubt these are testing times in more ways than one as organisers aim to stage a safe and clean Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

As the latest Tokyo 2020 playbook revealed this week, athletes will now be expected to be tested every day for COVID-19 during their time at the Games.

Coronavirus tests have added a further complexity to the running of the Games which were complex enough before the pandemic hit.

And it will not be the only testing programme which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will need to get right to ensure Tokyo 2020 is remembered as a successful Games.

The International Testing Agency (ITA), established by the IOC in 2018, will be responsible for carrying out the anti-doping programme as athletes gear up for an Olympics and Paralympics that are set to feature more tests than ever before.

"It’s never fun to be tested," Benjamin Cohen, director general of the ITA told insidethegames.

"But I think athletes will understand the importance of both being tested for COVID and being tested for anti-doping purposes.

"I have only met athletes who 100 per cent support what we do in the fight against doping.

"It is for the credibility of the sport."

It will be the first time the Games’ anti-doping programme will be managed by an independent agency.

Previously, the responsibility of collecting blood and urine samples fell on the shoulders of the National Anti-Doping Agencies (NADOs) and International Federations (IFs).

Cohen said the anti-doping system was "pretty shaken" by Rio 2016 which was dogged by scandal and controversy.

"After Rio, there was a growing call from within the Olympic Movement to say that we maybe need to change the system to remove actual or potential conflicts of interests," said Cohen.

"I think history has shown there has been a few conflicts of interests.

"The Olympic Movement came together and made a very important decision at the IOC Session in Rio to say let’s make anti-doping operations independent from sports organisations and delegate disciplinary decisions to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) so that it is no longer dealt with internally by the IFs."

The ITA, working in collaboration with the IOC, IFs, NADOs and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), had planned to carry out its Tokyo 2020 programme last year before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Games to be postponed to 2021.

Cohen said the pandemic had "triggered additional work" but insisted the number of experts on site in the Japanese site would be unchanged.

According to Reuters, WADA’s International Observer team will consist of eight officials for Tokyo 2020 compared to 10 for Rio 2016.

But Cohen is confident the restrictions at the Games will not have an adverse effect on his team.

"The plans for us haven’t changed," said Cohen.

"About 25 staff from the ITA team were going to the Tokyo Games that did not take place and this is still the case.

"Luckily, the number of people on-site hasn’t been reduced and that’s very important for us.

"We will be able to maintain the same level that was envisaged before, so 25 of us are going and there will also be hundreds of chaperones and approximately 300 local and international doping control officers.

"That’s encouraging."

Cohen admits it will be a logistical challenge to test athletes as he expects Tokyo 2020 organisers to separate groups into "bubbles" in a bid to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Athletes will be expected to arrive in the Athletes’ Village five days prior to their competition at Tokyo 2020 before departing a maximum of two days afterwards.

The Village is set to be restricted to competitors, but Cohen insists his team must be able to enter the "athlete bubble".

"We cannot deliver an anti-doping programme if we cannot test the athletes so we will have to be in touch with them," said Cohen.

"While we still need to get clarity on the plans and potential restricted bubbles, the big question for us will be to know if our team can be in contact efficiently with athletes, athlete support personnel and delegations’ officials.

"If we have to stop seeing anybody during the Games and just solely focused on the athletes that’s how it is going to work, that’s our job."

Cohen also stressed the importance of whistle-blowers in helping to tackle doping.

In February, the ITA launched its own doping reporting platform, called "Reveal", which is said to allow for suspicions to be disclosed in "complete confidentiality."

"By definition we are not conflicted, we are fully independent so athletes and anyone involved in sport can talk to us," said Cohen.

"We have a team of dedicated experts, specialised in managing highly confidential information, so people from law enforcement that know how to manage whistleblowers and get in touch with them.

"Since we established Reveal we have received some very important pieces of intelligence to allow us to act, prosecute and hopefully bring to justice the perpetrators."

Cohen revealed the ITA had also secured an "important agreement" with law enforcement agencies in Tokyo which will allow them to "share very sensitive information in a secured manner" as another way of spotting potential doping violations.

"For example, should we have strong suspicions of delegations arriving in Tokyo with prohibited substances, we will be able to share this information with the Japanese customs and they may open some suitcases," said Cohen.

"At the ITA, we try to avoid emails at all costs.

"We have seen in the past that emails can be hacked.

"We want to limit those possibilities, so we are going to use a secured ITA platform for the sharing of intelligence with Japanese colleagues."

The ITA also leads the Tokyo 2020 pre-Games expert pool, comprising specialists from IFs and NADOs representing all five continents.

The group is responsible for reviewing available information on athletes who are likely to compete in the Games.

It performs a risk assessment and shares testing recommendations with other anti-doping organisations to ensure that effective testing is conducted globally through a coordinated effort.

A total of 26,000 testing recommendations were issued in December after updating the pre-Games risk assessment due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020.

In comparison, the pre-Games anti-doping programme for Rio 2016 had started one month before the Games and comprised 1,500 recommendations for seven at-risk disciplines.

The ITA has also developed and implemented a long-term storage programme, supported by a dedicated IOC fund.

As a result, all samples collected from athletes going to Tokyo 2020 will be stored for up to 10 years.

"Our mission is to kick doping out of sport," said Cohen.

"Doping has no place at the Olympic Games so our team of more than 60 people are fully committed every day to doing what is best for clean sport.

"I am really hoping we can make a difference and offer comfort to athletes and the fans to ensure the Games are as clean as they can be."

It is set to be a testing time for the ITA, but Cohen believes his team are ready for the challenge at the 'COVID Games'.

"We have been working on the Tokyo project since the ITA was established three years ago," said Cohen.

"We are ready and eager to get there and deliver a good programme for the Games.

"It is the first time the Games’ anti-doping programme will be managed by an independent agency and we are excited to show increased integrity."

Source: https://www.insidethegames.biz/