Olympics 2016: Olympic Golfers Blood Tested Far Less Than Other Athletes

August 5, 2016

Olympic golfers have been blood tested far less than other Olympic athletes.

GOLF.com conducted an informal survey of all the golfers competing at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol last week who qualified for and committed to play in the upcoming Rio Games. Of the 31 athletes from 20 countries who responded (one declined to comment through his agent), only four, or 13 percent, said that they had been blood tested by the International Golf Federation in advance of the Games.

Turns out, that’s even more than the World Anti-Doping Agency mandated.

In preparation for golf’s return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence, the IGF adopted a “more stringent” WADA-designed drug-testing regimen on May 6 that subjected its athletes to random out-of-competition blood testing.

Based on the “Physiological Risk Assessment” for golf, however, WADA’s Technical Document for Sport Specific Analysis (TDSSA) sets the minimum level of analysis of golfers for substances like human growth hormone (which is undetectable in urine) at 5 percent of the testing pool.

IGF vice president Ty Votaw told GOLF.com that the results of the survey reflect that the federation has followed WADA guidelines.

“The IGF Test Distribution Plan, which included both in- and out-of-competition testing for both blood and urine, has been consistent with other WADA-compliant programs,” Votaw said. “Golf has exceeded the recommendations in the TDSSA, and the IGF will publish the testing details at the conclusion of the Registered Testing Period.”

The minimum levels of analysis range from 0 percent (i.e., diving) to 60 percent (i.e., long-distance running), placing golf in the second-lowest risk category alongside, for example, fencing.

According to WADA spokesperson Maggie Durand, these requirements are specific to blood testing. Indeed, several golfers told GOLF.com that they had been urine tested as opposed to blood tested in advance of the Olympic competition, though three said they had not been tested at all.

“The majority of prohibited substances are detectable in urine and the level of testing should reflect the level of risk identified in the sport and on individual athletes, and include testing both in and out of competition,” Durand said. “These are minimums, however, and international federations are encouraged to do a greater level of analysis for these substances.”

Asked to release the assessment for golf, Durand deferred to the IGF which, she says, was responsible for conducting that report. The IGF, however, directed further inquiries back to WADA which, Votaw says, was responsible for the final 5 percent determination.

The players appear divided on the issue. Prior to the start of the British Open at Royal Troon, World No. 4 Rory McIlroy told the media that he “could use HGH and get away with it” and advocated for more rigorous blood testing if golf “wants to be seen as a mainstream sport.”

McIlroy’s countryman, Padraig Harrington, agrees.

“Do I think we should be blood tested?” Harrington said. “Yes.”

Others didn’t share McIlroy’s enthusiasm for stricter testing.

Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett told GOLF.com that golfers have too little to gain and too much to lose by doping.

“I don’t think guys are going to try anything to get them in that kind of trouble,” Willett said.

Another top player who asked to remain anonymous echoed Willett’s sentiment.

“It doesn’t concern me in our sport, but it would in others,” he said.

Roger Pielke, a professor at the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado and author of the forthcoming book The Edge: The War Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports, says the survey tells a different story.

“These numbers underscore a few things. One is that anti-doping efforts are haphazard across sports, and they are not implemented systematically,” Pielke said. “Another is that anti-doping via drug testing as currently practiced is not at all an effective means of quantifying how many athletes dope. Does 4 out of 31 serve as a deterrent? Is it likely to identify those who break the rules? Who knows?”

Pielke, a frequent critic of WADA, says that anti-doping efforts need to be more scientific — and more transparent — to be effective.

“We are learning that anti-doping is built on a foundation that doesn’t quite touch the ground,” he said. “Anti-doping efforts cannot work unless they are based on rigorous evidence. If that evidence is hidden or known only to insiders, well, that doesn’t work.”

GOLF.com’s Peter Bukowski contributed to this report.