WADA Suspends Rio Laboratory Weeks Before Olympics

On Friday, June 24, 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed the suspension of a Rio de Janeiro laboratory responsible for processing all athletes’ drug test samples for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil. The sanctions, coming six weeks before the opening ceremony on August 5, were due to “non-conformity with the International Standard for Laboratories.” The lab is prohibited from conducting any anti-doping analysis on blood and urine samples, effective immediately.

The lab was previously suspended in 2013, a year before Brazil hosted the World Cup. After reinstatement last year, the lab spent nearly $60 million to train over 90 technicians and modernize the facility. Now, there are doubts the current suspension will be lifted before the Olympics begin. WADA stated the suspension will last either six months, or until a decision is made by the WADA Executive Committee on possible revocation of the lab’s WADA accreditation. The lab may appeal within 21 days of receiving notice of the suspension.

The incoming director general of WADA, Olivier Niggli, made a statement saying WADA will work with the Rio laboratory to resolve the issue. Niggli iterated the goal is to “ensure there are no gaps” in anti-doping sample analysis, and urged athletes to have confidence the ban on the Rio laboratory will be lifted only when it is “operating optimally.” In the meantime, all samples collected from athletes competing in Brazil will have to be transported to another WADA-accredited laboratory as soon as possible. The closest such facility to Rio is 2,800 miles away in Bogota, Colombia.

This is the sixth laboratory to be sanctioned by WADA in recent months. Most notably, a Russian anti-doping lab was sanctioned last fall for its role in an alleged government-run doping program executed for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Moscow-based lab is said to have substituted out steroid-laced urine of many Russian athletes, including at least 15 gold-medal winners from the Sochi Games.

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