This week’s edition of The Spin reports that the ICC “stepped up” its dope testing at this year’s Champions Trophy when it started conducting blood tests.
As someone who spends a significant proportion of his working life reading about the shortcomings of even blood testing, the idea that a sport would rely solely on what it could find in athletes’ urine as a testing method seems not too far removed from dunking them in water to see whether they float or asking them to read scripture out loud to see whether they stumble.
Chances are a few people have managed to beat the testers.
There’s a suggestion now that cricket might introduce the Athlete Biological Passport – an electronic record of various biological markers within an individual, tracked over time. This can reveal the effects of doping without detection of the substance (or method) used.
If they do, expect a whole bunch of people to get caught. Huge financial rewards plus lack of any real scrutiny tends to equal a bit of open-minded medical experimentation from a small percentage of athletes.
The Spin goes on to point out that T20 has led to greater emphasis on strength and power. This was a point we made in March last year when it was announced that Andre Russell might face a ban for missing dope tests and the same conclusion is drawn – that baseball provides an obvious rebuttal to the argument that cricket, as a game of skill, isn’t vulnerable to doping.
Cricket is vulnerable, has been for a while, and the authorities are playing catch-up. They aren’t even catching up that quickly. Let’s look at the two most high profile nations.
The Quint reports that in India 138 in-competition tests were carried out in 2016 and just 15 out-of-competition tests. Out of competition is when doping is more likely to take place, as this is when players are in the gym looking to make physical improvements or are recovering from injury.
In the UK, Elizabeth Ammon reports in The Times that 102 in-competition tests were carried out on male cricketers in the 12 months to March this year, plus 28 out-of-competition tests. No tests were carried out on female cricketers.
World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) figures for 2016 state that 1,164 tests were carried out worldwide. Only 31 of these were out-of-competition tests (this may exclude the India figures above, as the doping agency operating in cricket there has an unusual relationship with Wada).
To put that in context, fencing conducted 1,618 tests, canoeing conducted 4,196 tests and football conducted 33,227 tests. 130 tests were carried out in boules. Road cycling – a discipline with just a few hundred professionals – conducted over 13,000 tests. (It even tests 60-year-olds who finish 95th in amateur races.)
Several other sports undertake similarly half-arsed regimes to cricket, but that doesn’t change the fact that the sport has a sizeable blind spot.
The Spin’s headline “Is cricket a doping-free zone or has anyone been looking hard enough?” is presumably rhetorical. No-one has been looking particularly hard because no-one wants to deal with what they would find.