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Ditch plan to disregard all athletic world records before 2005, urge experts

Released: 07.12.17

A team of experts, led by Plymouth Marjon University, is urging the European Athletics Council to abandon its controversial proposal to disregard all athletic world records set before 2005. 

The proposal, which has now been put to the world governing body, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), aims to redress the consequences of past undetected doping violations that may have helped set some of the least attainable world records.

In an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the writers argue that the proposal is unfair to those athletes who legitimately achieved world records without the aid of performance enhancing drugs, as well as being “overly simplistic and ill conceived.”

The team of experts is Professors Andrew Edwards from Plymouth Marjon University, Andrew Jones from the University of Exeter and David Pyne from the Australian Institute of Sport & the University of Canberra in Australia.

A major justification for the European Athletics Council’s proposal is that urine and blood samples taken to check for doping have only been stored since 2005, the authors explain. Although this means that world records achieved through cheating will be purged, memorable and inspirational performances from clean athletes, such as Jonathan Edwards (triple jump), Mike Powell (long jump), and Paula Radcliffe (marathon) would also be removed from history.

And there are other flaws in this plan, they suggest. Many failed drugs tests have previously not been upheld because of factors, such as cross-contamination, poor storage and possible degradation of samples. The authors point out that all of these are more likely as time passes. Therefore, to try and prove a doping violation for a sample held since 2005 and expect a prosecution might not only be unrealistic but also potentially open to legal challenge.

And the participation of intersex athletes may yet call into question other world records as there is no longer any limit on these athletes’ use of testosterone, despite the undoubted performance advantage it confers, they add.

It is clear that doping hasn’t stopped. A 2015 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report detailed a Russian state-sponsored doping programme and stated that the London Olympic Games “‘were in a sense, sabotaged by the admission of athletes who should have not been competing,” they write.

The performances of athletes are the product of genetic endowment, hard work, and the contribution of science, the authors point out. But it is impossible to prove retrospectively the innocence of individual athletes who set records before 2005, they insist.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Edwards of Plymouth Marjon University says: “The European Athletics Council’s proposal seems totally unfair. We argue that it is a double punishment for those clean athletes who have competed against and overcome drugs cheats to now lose their world records. Disregarding all historic world records would stain the reputation of many of our greatest athletes, including Jonathan Edwards, Mike Powell and Paula Radcliffe. Many of our most inspirational and iconic sporting memories would be tarnished.”

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