Recently, several athletes were arrested in Austria in connection with a suspected blood doping ring. At the center of the alleged ring is a German doctor. Investigators reportedly found the doctor’s client list with more than 20 athletes on it from around the word. The doctor and five of those athletes have already been arrested.
What is blood doping?
Blood doping refers to methods that artificially increase a person’s red blood cells. These red blood cells carry oxygen. When a person has more red blood cells, they have greater physical endurance.
The concept of blood doping typically appeals to endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, swimmers and Nordic skiers.
The World Anti-Doping Agency succinctly describes blood doping as the misuse of certain techniques and/or substances to increase one’s red blood cell mass, which allows the body to transport more oxygen to muscles and therefore increase stamina and performance. There are three widely known, prohibited substances or methods used for blood doping: erythropoietin (EPO), synthetic oxygen carriers and blood transfusions.
How do officials test for it?
Separate tests have been developed to detect the use of recombinant (meaning not naturally produced) EPO, synthetic oxygen carriers, and homologous blood transfusions (meaning the transfusion of someone else’s blood). No test has been developed for autologous blood transfusions (meaning the transfusion of the athlete’s own blood that had been earlier removed and stored). Blood doping can also be indirectly detected through the use of the Athlete Biological Passport, which involves the collection of blood samples over time and the comparison of certain blood values from sample to sample.
Dangers of doping
There are serious consequences associated with blood doping. Health risks include blood clots and possible strokes, as well as heart and autoimmune diseases.
There are also the personal and professional ramifications of blood doping. Engaging in this practice – or even the suspicion of blood doping – can call into question an athlete’s performances. It could also lead to suspensions and destroy careers. However, testing for blood doping is extraordinarily complex, and there have been instances in the past where athletes were wrongly accused of blood doping. Athletes who have tested positive for blood doping, who believe that the test may be a mistake, should consult with an experienced anti-doping lawyer who can help them understand the test results and the adjudication process.