Last updated on: 12/29/2008 | Author:

Are the Laboratories Used to Test Athletes for Performance Enhancing Drugs Credible and Reliable?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Michael Hiltzik, MS, reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote the following in his Dec. 10, 2006 article titled “Athletes’ Unbeatable Foe,” published in the Los Angeles Times:

“A test sample is typically divided into two vials, labeled ‘A’ and ‘B.’ The ‘A’ sample is the first to be tested. If it comes up positive for a banned substance, the athlete may demand a confirmation test of the ‘B’ sample. If that is also positive, the [World Anti-Doping] code allows the agency to declare the athlete in violation of doping rules and impose a penalty ranging from a public warning to a lifetime ban.

Tests for banned substances may be performed only at one of the 34 labs around the world accredited by WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency]. Athletes are not permitted to have their samples tested at any lab outside the agency’s system. The rules also prohibit WADA labs from doing any tests in defense of an accused athlete…

WADA pays labs, usually one of those in its network, to develop tests for banned substances. It then is the sole arbiter of the test’s scientific validity.

WADA determines threshold levels at which traces of a substance are deemed a violation.

And under WADA rules, the same lab that performs a positive test on an ‘A’ sample also must conduct the confirming test on the ‘B’ sample.”

Dec. 10, 2006 - Michael Hiltzik, MS

The World Anti-Doping Agency wrote the following in a document titled “2007 Statistics Reported by Accredited Laboratories: Questions & Answers,” available on its website (accessed Dec. 8, 2008):

“Laboratory accreditation guidelines are set forth in the International Standard for Laboratories under the World Anti-Doping Code. The purpose of the Standards is to ensure laboratory production of valid test results and evidentiary data and to achieve uniform and harmonized results from all accredited anti-doping laboratories.

In January 2004, WADA assumed responsibility for accreditation and reaccreditation of laboratories and developed and implemented the International Standard for Laboratories in order to establish harmonized performance and accountability under the Code. Prior to 2004, the International Olympic Committee oversaw anti-doping laboratories.

In 2007, there were 33 accredited laboratories reporting results to WADA. [Note: As of Dec. 15, 2008, there are 34 WADA-accredited laboratories around the world.]

The International Standards for Laboratories, under the World Anti-Doping Code, requires that a WADA-accredited laboratory perform analysis on a minimum of 1,500 tests per year. Any accredited laboratory that does not meet the 1,500 minimum is monitored closely by WADA who oversees accreditation and re-accreditation.

On a quarterly basis, WADA distributes at least 5 Blind PT Samples to all WADA-accredited laboratories and probationary laboratories (accepted into the probationary phase of accreditation) for the purpose of evaluating laboratory performance. The PT challenge may consist of blank urines, adulterated urines, or urines containing one or more Adverse Analytical Finding and can be representative of any of the drug classes of the Prohibited List. The laboratories are blind to the contents of the samples and utilize their full menu of the routine laboratory testing procedures. The results of the sample analysis and associated documentation are reported to WADA within a determined time frame.”

[Editor’s Note: To read more about WADA’s lab testing and methods of proficiency testing, please read the 2007 Statistics Reported by Accredited Laboratories Questions and Answers and the WADA 2008 International Standard for Laboratories ]

Dec. 8, 2008 - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

PRO (yes)


David Cowan, PhD, Director of the Drug Control Centre at King’s College London, stated the following in a July 10, 2008 press release titled “Cheats Have No Place to Hide,” posted on the UK Sport website:

“The World Association of Anti-Doping Scientists was formed several years ago and as first president, I had the privilege of helping improve better communication between the laboratories. This network of accredited laboratories increasingly work together, sharing information and identifying trends that can assist the testers in the planning and allocation of tests. That essentially means there is an incredible bank of expertise focused on tackling doping in sport which should put some doubts in the mind of anyone thinking of cheating.

Furthermore, our research activities and those of others, help to improve the analysis process. The improved analysis together with intelligent testing means we are better placed than ever before to tackle new substances and methods before they become a threat.”

July 10, 2008 - David Cowan, PhD


Victoria Ivanova, Scientific Project Manager at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), wrote the following in the May 2008 “WADA Overview of Scientific Activities,” published on the WADA website:

“As a global coordinator of the fight against doping in sport, WADA emphasizes the importance of precise and reliable test measurements as the basis for the worldwide result acceptance from the WADA-accredited laboratories thus raising international confidence in fair play. WADA has developed a robust accreditation program and is actively collaborating with global accreditation community and intergovernmental organizations such as ILAC [International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation] and BIPM [International Bureau of Weights and Measures] to increase uniformity of measurement of performance-enhancing substances and methods around the world…

WADA’s Laboratory Accreditation Program is an integral part of WADA’s global task in the fight against doping and represents a complex multi-step process of ongoing compliance monitoring.”

May 2008 - Victoria Ivanova


Christiane Ayotte, PhD, Director of the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, Canada, stated the following in her Mar. 7, 2008 witness statement in the American Arbitration Association case “United States Anti-Doping Agency v. Floyd Landis”:

“I have been asked to give an opinion in connection to the adverse analytical finding reported by the Laboratory in Paris, LNDD for urine sample 995474 [FLoyd Landis] provided during the Tour de France and to comment on specific issues raised in the athlete’s defence…

Having reviewed the documentation packages provided by the laboratory, I concluded that the adverse findings were reported on good scientific and technical grounds…

The purpose of the chain of custody requirement is to confirm the security of the specimens… The lab is a controlled area, and its access is, as should be, restricted to authorised personnel. I have not seen an element that caused me concern over the secutiry of the specimens…

The laboratory procedures were audited by an independent body and found to comply. The report notes… the competence of the laboratory personnel, its very good knowledge of mass spectrometry, [and] their extensive training record.”

Mar. 7, 2008 - Christiane Ayotte, PhD


Caroline K. Hatton, PhD, former Associate Director of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote the following in her Aug. 2007 article titled “Beyond Sports-Doping Headlines: The Science of Laboratory Tests for Performance-Enhancing Drugs,” published in Pediatric Clinics of North America:

“Roomfuls of regulations and teams of specialized professionals ensure that the laboratory work is conducted accurately, and that the test results are handled properly…

The fight against drug abuse in sports has grown and improved ever since doping control began in the 1960s. Worldwide antidoping efforts are better organized, harmonized, and structured than ever. This is true not only of the rules, prohibited substances and methods, sanctions, and appeals, but also of laboratory accreditation and reporting criteria…

A substantial international regulatory framework is in place to harmonize sports rules and drug-testing laboratories. In major programs, urine and blood samples are split into an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ sample, and urination is observed directly. Chain of custody paperwork documents who has custody of the samples or where they are locked up, from the moment the bottles are sealed, to their receipt at the lab, to the day when they are finally discarded. If an ‘A’ sample screens positive, the finding is confirmed twice before sanctions are considered: by reanalyzing the ‘A’ sample and then analyzing the ‘B’ sample.”

Aug. 2007 - Caroline K. Hatton, PhD


Brian Alexander, journalist and former Contributing Editor for biotechnology at Wired magazine, wrote the following in his July 2005 article titled “The Awful Truth About Drugs in Sports,” published in Outside magazine:

“The [UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory] lab is one of the world’s top facilities for analyzing biological samples from athletes to detect the use of banned substances like anabolic steroids, the blood-oxygen booster erythropoetin (EPO), and scores of other prohibited drugs that aid performance…

Based in Montreal, WADA… has accredited a global chain of 33 laboratories like [Dr. Don] Catlin’s [UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory] to conduct doping tests.

Catlin’s lab is the business end of this system, and his team is exquisitely good at finding drugs on the WADA list. The facility has handled about 300,000 tests over the past 21 years, and it has never produced a false positive. If Catlin says you’ve doped, you’ve doped.”

July 2005 - Brian Alexander

CON (no)


Daniel M. Rosen, author of Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today, wrote the following in an Oct. 30, 2007 blog entry titled “Standard? What Standard?,” posted on his blog Rant Your Head Off:

“In the absence of any clear-cut standard, each lab is left to fend for itself. For an agency whose mission is to develop reasonably uniform practices throughout the anti-doping world, failing to provide some guidance to the labs as to what constitutes a positive (or ‘non-negative,’ to use WADA-speak) result is a serious abdication of their duty. Why? Because the sports world could end up with a situation where one lab would declare a doping violation and another wouldn’t when given the same data from the same person…

An athlete competing in Australia, Europe, the United States and other parts of the world should be able to rest easy in the knowledge that no matter where he or she goes, the standards for what constitutes a doping violation will be the same. And the labs testing his/her samples will be held to the same standards. And that those labs that violate the standards will suffer consequences up to and including loss of their accreditation.”

Oct. 30, 2007 - Daniel M. Rosen


Paul Scott, JD, former Director of Client Services at the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, and expert consultant to 2006 Tour de France cyclist Floyd Landis, stated the following in an Apr. 23, 2007 interview titled “Former UCLA Boss Cries Foul in Landis Case,” publshed in Bike Biz:

“USADA’s interest in controlling and limiting our observation of the retesting [of Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for a high ratio of testosterone] is an example of one of the most egregious problems in the fundamental science of anti-doping that I have experienced.

Labs acting under the direction of prosecuting Anti-Doping Organizations (ADOs) are, by definition, not independent. As service providers hired by ADOs, they have a vested interest in the results desired by their client. In this case, the client is USADA and the lab is the LNDD [Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage at Chatenay-Malabry]. From what I have witnessed so far, I have significant concerns that their analysis will render results that are scientifically invalid.”

Apr. 23, 2007 - Paul Scott, JD


Christopher L. Campbell, JD, an Anti-Doping Panel Member of the American Arbitration Association, wrote the following in his Sep. 20, 2007 dissenting opinion in the case “United States Anti-Doping Agency v. Floyd Landis”:

“From the beginning, the Laboratoire National de Dépistage et du Dopage (‘LNDD’) has not been trustworthy. In this case, at every stage of testing it failed to comply with the procedures and methods for testing required by the International Standards for Laboratories…

It was disclosed during the hearing that the [WADA] Laboratory Directors are bound by an Ethics Code of Conduct [see below] that has been interpreted to preclude them from disclosing the errors of one of their fellow laboratories on behalf of an athlete. In other words, if a Laboratory Director knew that another laboratory had made an error and that error was causing an innocent athlete to be convicted of a doping offense, they could not testify on behalf of the athlete and disclose the error…

While this provision does not expressly preclude a Laboratory Director from testifying on behalf of athletes, the testimony of the Laboratory directors made it clear that is in fact how the provision has been interpreted and enforced.

When you have flaws that are as obvious as the flaws in LNDD’s document package in this case and you combine that with the fact that actions were taken on Mr. Landis’ sample that are not recorded, then I do not see how you can state with confidence what happened to those samples at any particular time. Flaws of this magnitude in the internal chain of custody renders any results from tests done on those samples unreliable.”

[Editor’s Note: The Ethics Code of Conduct referenced by Campbell above is written in the International Standard for Laboratories and states the following:

“The Laboratory personnel shall not engage in conduct or activities that undermine or are detrimental to the anti-doping program of WADA, an International Federation, a National Anti-Doping Organization, a National Olympic Committee, a Major Event Organization Committee, or the International Olympic Committee. Such conduct could include, but is not limited to, conviction for fraud, embezzlement, perjury, etc., that would cast doubt on the integrity of the anti-doping program.”]

Sep. 20, 2007 - Christopher L. Campbell, JD


Lance Armstrong, professional cyclist and seven time winner of the Tour de France, stated the following in an Aug. 25, 2005 interview on Larry King Live:

“Our defense when we look at this thing and we say — and I guess I try to ask people to sit in my seat and say, OK, you know, a guy in a French — in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know, Jean-Francis so and so, and he tests it. Nobody’s there to observe. No protocol was followed. And then you get a phone call from a newspaper that says we found you to be positive six times for EPO…

These samples were stored for six or seven years. Where were they stored? What was the temperature, et cetera, et cetera? There’s not any scientific data that suggests that after five years, samples look and act the same that they did before. It doesn’t exist.

I wasn’t there when these were examined.

Who opened the samples? What protocol was followed? Nothing. It was all thrown out the door. We cannot build a system of faith and trust in an anti-doping fight if we don’t have faith in it. There’s no way. If I’m an athlete, if I’m active today, which I’m not, thank goodness, I don’t trust that system.”

Aug. 25, 2008 - Lance Armstrong