Athletes completing doping bans in the next year could be eligible to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which is an unintentional cause of pushing the Games back one year. This doesn’t sit well with many clean competitors, but it seems unlikely that athletes currently serving bans will have their sentences extended when competitions return.
According to the Athletics Integrity Unit, about 40 of the 200 or so banned track and field athletes are international-level competitors who stand to gain from the Olympic postponement. The AIU maintains a global list of track athletes banned for doping violations.
COVID-19 has put the world on hold, and with it, all running competitions. This unprecedented landscape means that runners serving doping bans aren’t missing out on competition, while simultaneously avoiding regular testing. This seems like a very convenient loophole. However, WADA president, Witold Banka, told the Associated Press that they don’t have the ability to “cherry pick” when athletes’ bans end.
In order to achieve Olympic standard within the qualification window, an athlete would need to return to competition a few months clear of the qualification deadline (June 29) and subsequent Games. This means most runners whose sentences were completed around April 2021 would stand a chance at qualification.
Evan Dunfee, world championship medallist in the 50K race walk, says the situation is unfortunate. “I wish there was a solution, but it would never win at CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport]. People have tried before to prevent athletes from competing at the next Olympics, even if their ban had ended, and they lost that at CAS. Hopefully the AIU and WADA can double down on their efforts once testing resumes, and continue to stamp out cheating in our sport.”