The Court of Arbitration for Sport issued a landmark decision this week that is expected to have far-reaching implications for sports around the world. International sport's highest court ruled that an athlete may be suspended for illegal doping, even if he does not fail a drug test. The decision was based on collecting biological evidence of performance-enhancing drugs over a long period of time.
The case began when Italian cyclist Franco Pellizotti was provisionally suspended for two years by the International Cycling Union last May. The group ruled that Pellizotti's biological passport indicated that the cyclist’s blood profile values were“abnormal.”
A biological passport is an ongoing electronic record in which all the results of an athlete’s doping tests, such as blood and urine, are collected and compared.
But Pellizotti never tested positive for banned substances and he was cleared of the charges in October by the Italian Olympic Committee, leading the International Cycling Union to appeal the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In its decision, the Swiss-based court used the biological passport as evidence to uphold Pellizotti's suspension.
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart explains why this case will have far-reaching implications for athletes.
"It confirms that biological passport data of blood alone and by itself demonstrates clearly that someone has committed a violation," said Tygart. "And in this case, it was important because it was the first time that evidence alone has been used to show that an athlete had committed an anti-doping rule violation."
It is the first verdict to be issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after examining the scientific and legal validity of biological passports. It also was the biological passport program’s first test before sport’s highest court since it was launched by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union in 2008.
Tygart says the data in biological passports can help catch cheating athletes who find ways to avoid testing positive.
"Using analytical data does not necessarily equal positive tests in the traditional sense, but it shows potent evidence of someone's use of any of the performance enhancing drugs that are prohibited in sports," he said. "All the experts agree to that, and it is the ability to use that evidence to really capture and detect the most sophisticated dopers."
Tygart says biological passport data for blood and urine are used by national anti-doping agencies around the world.
"Sports are using it and I think you will see it as it continues to develop and is fine-tuned even further, continue to be an effective tool to deter athletes from cheating and also to ultimately sanction them when they make the unfortunate decision to cheat in their sport," said Tygart. "It is a tool in the box that anti-doping authorities use day in and day out to protect clean athletes' rights to compete on a level playing field and to protect the integrity of sports."
In addition to the International Cycling Union, Tygart says the International Skiing and Swimming Federations as well as the International Association of Athletics Federations use biological testing programs.