Japan anti-doping chief says Tokyo Olympics won't be 'sabotaged'

Japan anti-doping chief says Tokyo Olympics won't be 'sabotaged'
Artist's impression of the Tokyo Olympic stadium. The head of Japan's anti-doping agency said he was confident of a "clean" 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Japan's anti-doping chief told AFP that Russia's athletes should be kicked out of the Rio Olympics - and vowed round-the-clock work to make sure the Tokyo Games won't be "sabotaged" by drugs cheats.

Track and field's world governing body the IAAF last month voted to suspend Russia's athletics federation after the publication of a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that alleged "state-sponsored" drug use.

The country faces exclusion from Rio if not declared compliant but the Japan Anti-Doping Agency's chief executive officer Shin Asakawa believes the IAAF needs to take a harder line as a deterrent and declared that JADA would work overtime to help ensure a clean Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

"I think we need to be very tough on Russia," Asakawa said in an interview at the Tokyo headquarters of JADA, which operates on an annual budget of some US$10 million (S$14 million).

"Nobody wants to see an Olympics where everyone is suspicious of the results," Asakawa said.

"The purpose of the anti-doping movement is to catch cheats but also to demonstrate that performances are real.

"British newspapers ran headlines saying the London Olympics were sabotaged by Russia, and you can understand those sentiments.

"We have five years and many sleepless nights to make sure that doesn't happen," he added.

"We are confident of a clean Tokyo 2020. But if we can't promise athletes we can banish these doping scandals then we've lost before the starting gun goes off." He said there was too little time left for Russian athletics to prove it had put its house in order over doping.

"Can people who were working against the system turn back and pull in the same direction in time (for Rio)? I think it's very difficult.

"From an anti-doping perspective I don't think Russian athletes should take part in Rio," he added.

"But it's hard to ignore calls from Russian athletes protesting their innocence, such as (Yelena) Isinbayeva. That poses a dilemma for (IAAF president) Sebastian Coe."

With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, JADA's role in fighting the drug cheats is set to come under increasing scrutiny and Asakawa warned much work still needed to be done, a point underlined earlier this week when Kenyan athletics chief Isaiah Kiplagat and two subordinates were suspended.

The IAAF, already reeling from a doping scandal which overshadowed August's world championships in Beijing, is investigating allegations the Kenyan officials subverted anti-doping protocols, in addition to the "improper diversion" of funds received from Nike.

"You can't deny there could be another country that emerges after Russia," said Asakawa, referring to the potential for further cases of systematic doping.

"The peculiarity of Russia's case is that people who were supposed to protect the athletes were covering for them in a deceitful way, for ill profit.

"There's always the risk it could happen again where governments and anti-doping agencies are complicit. Based on current circumstances, we need a more stringent plan."

Asakawa admitted, however, that it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch drug cheats as they deploy vastly more sophisticated methods than when disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson first brought doping to the public's attention at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

"We used to think of Ben Johnson as the classic example of doping," said Asakawa. "But the days of using performance-enhancing substances for a one-off event are gone.

"Ben Johnson's form of doping would be like walking over a hole in the ground or driving a car at 200kph when you know there are speed cameras.

"Now it's about intricate planning, boosting recovery after training and micro-dosing, which makes illegal substances very hard to detect. And if it's hard to access training areas, cheats can dope in virtual secrecy." Asakawa called for closer co-operation across regions to ensure more comprehensive testing.

"You look at Jamaica, who have dominated sprinting recently," he said.

"Yes, Asafa Powell has been caught and if they train in Florida, they can be easily tested. But if testers have to go to Jamaica, you have to ask when and where and it becomes more difficult."

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