Drug testing lags as Tokyo Games approach. The wretched pandemic has slowed anti doping efforts worldwide to a crawl.

Efforts to prevent the use of performance - enhancing drugs ahead of the 2016 Olympics could not have gone much worse.

In the months before the Rio de Janeiro Games, more than 1,900 athletes in 10 key sports - including track and field, weight lifting and cycling - were not tested, a failure that doping officials vowed would not be repeated in the next Olympic cycle.

YET five years later, the world's anti-doping organizations are struggling to live up to that promise before this summer's Tokyo Games, in part because the coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult to fix a problem that has persisted for decades : Testing is inconsistent across numerous countries.

''The antidoping system is very unbalanced,'' said Benjamin Cohen, director general of International Testing Agency, an independent, nonprofit organization that the International Olympic Committee set up to manage the testing program for the Olympics. ''Some organizations are very strong, and some are less resourced.''

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which creates guidance for antidoping organizations and keeps track of their testing practices, the number of tests administered throughout the world has picked up substantially in recent months, especially compared with last spring, when testing essentially stopped because of of the public health crisis.

It is not clear, though, how testing since the start of 2020 breaks down by country, because the organization does not promptly release such data beyond the overall number of tests.

WADA, which released its report on testing for 2019 in December 2020, says it needs many months to sort through testing data to assess what it means.

That imbalance is a common complaint among athletes from a handful of countries where testing is robust, like the United States, Britain, Canada and Norway.

''I personally have been drug tested 18 times since February of 2020,'' Lilly King, the American swimmer who won two gold medals in Rio, said during a news conference in April. ''Obviously, we don't know how the other countries will be testing.''

During the first three months of this year, 52,416 tests took place, a 23 percent fewer than the 68,291 tests administered during the first three months of 2019, the last full year of sporting events before widespread cancellations.

Fewer events meant fewer tests at competitions. The number of out-of-competition tests - in which doping control officers make unannounced visits to athletes - in the first three months of 2021 is on pace with 2020 data.

Because many athletes are traveling to fewer competitions, they are harder to reach for testing.

''We're not back to the full capacity we were operating at, but we are very close,'' said Jeremy Luke, senior director of sport integrity for the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport, which manages antidopting efforts in that country.

Luke said that in recent months, officials had focused heavily on athletes who had made Olympic teams and those who were attempting to earn spots. ''It's not operating in the same way as in the past, but it is operating.''

The World Students Society thanks author Matthew Futterman.


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