The Russian drug-testing laboratory for February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi faces suspension unless it significantly improves the reliability of its results by Dec. 1, meaning problems for the doping controls at both major international sports events next year.
The World Anti-Doping Agency provisionally suspended the Moscow Antidoping Center on Sunday, saying its operations must improve or a six-month ban on the facility’s accreditation will be imposed. The Moscow lab is due to move some of its facilities to Sochi to handle the tests at the Feb. 7-23 Winter Games.
WADA has already revoked the accreditation of the Brazilian testing laboratory, forcing FIFA to fly samples before and during the World Cup in June and July to Switzerland for analysis.
In response, the IOC stressed it was "confident" the Sochi lab would be in place for the games and the scrutiny on Russia’s anti-doping laboratory would actually improve the quality of the testing at its Winter Olympics.
The IOC announced last week it would do more doping tests around the Sochi Games than any other Winter Olympics – nearly 2,500 in all.
The WADA announcement threatening a suspension, comes less than three months before the start of the Sochi Games. The international anti-doping authority gave the Moscow facility a first deadline of Dec. 1 to bring in independent "quality management" experts to "allow everyone to be confident of the accuracy and reliability of results moving forward."
That deadline in two weeks directly affects the Sochi Games.
In its statement, WADA said there was a second deadline of April 1, 2014, when the lab must ensure that program of improvement has been "drafted, finalized, implemented and embedded."
"If the two above-mentioned conditions are fully satisfied within the specified deadlines (to which no extensions will be granted), then the above referenced six month suspension of accreditation of the Moscow laboratory shall never come into effect," WADA said.
WADA is not the responsible medical authority for the upcoming Olympics but said it "strongly suggests" the International Olympic Committee "consider appropriate action to ensure the complete integrity of all analysis" at the laboratory both in Moscow and the satellite facility at Sochi.
The IOC gave the Russian facility its support, saying that it is "confident that all the necessary measures will be taken and the Sochi lab will be fully functioning during the Games.
"The integrity of the Games-time testing program will remain unaffected by these developments, indeed it will be strengthened," an IOC statement said.
WADA regularly checks that its accredited labs are working properly by sending them "blind samples," samples meant as tests to ensure the lab is giving correct findings, and not false positives or false negatives.
Labs deemed non-compliant with WADA’s standards can have their accreditation revoked, as has happened with the Rio de Janeiro lab that had been scheduled to test samples at next year’s World Cup in Brazil. FIFA will instead have to fly samples from the football showcase to an accredited lab in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The Moscow lab handled drug tests for the world track and field championships in August and is also due to do the same for the Sochi games at its satellite facility.
Should the Moscow lab have its WADA accreditation revoked, the facility in Sochi would likely not be able to operate, and the cost of transferring samples to another lab would likely be borne by local organizers under the host city agreement. Sochi already has the highest price tag for any Olympics, summer or winter, with an estimated cost of $50 billion.
Sochi also will be the most drug-tested games in Winter Olympics history, according to the IOC. New IOC President Thomas Bach told the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg this week that there would be a total of 2,453 tests before and during the games, including 1,269 pre-competition tests.
The IOC will spend $1 million on pre-competition testing for Sochi and "many millions" on testing throughout the event, Bach said.