Anti-doping – can I see your passport, please?

Having the 2012 Olympics in London ahead there is a number of discussions coming up again. And there is one topic I would like to focus on today. My blog mate Alina touched in her “I will keep pushing you” blogpost already on the topic of doping. And I found something really interesting regarding doping and a new technology of tracking drugs in blood and urine.

The Biological Passport

In fact this technology is not a new technology itself (as they are still testing blood and urine for drugs) rather the process is new. Usually, urine is tested a single time on common drugs like EPO or the level of haemoglobin and blood reticulocyte is tested. If the levels vary too much from “normal” values the tested sample will be considered “manipulated/positive“.

And here starts the conflict. Because athletes will claim, that they are suffering some mysterious disease and that is why their haemoglobin or reticulocyte levels are above average.

So, what the “Biological Passport” does is that data of biomarker levels in the blood are collected on a regular bases in order to figure out the average level of the different biomarkers of each individual. And if there are bigger changes found beyond the individual margin, this will be considered clear evidence to the cheating of the athlete. No excuses no more.

Sustainability 

Deepak states in his blog that with the introduction of the passport in 2008 the number of tests with results beyond marginal values has dropped to only 4% (compared to 10% in 2007 and 14% in 2001). Obviously, this test is great success, however Deepak adds, its reliability is denoted 99.9% which implies that out of 1000 samples 1 will be wrongly tested “positive”.

Critics

Apparently there is ways to outwit the passport test as well. For example by employing micro doses of illegal substances it is possible to constantly remain within individual substance boundaries and the test will never state “positive” although drugs have been consumed, Grannygear objects.

Moreover, Grannygear argues that rider’s blood markers naturally change over the time of their career due to improvement in their performance and natural progression as athletes. And it is not clear whether this is accounted for in the biological passport programme or not.

Cervelo Co-Founder Vroomen states in his blog that he has not heard of riders being tested for the biological password between the end of the Tour de France 2010 tour and April 2011. He is wondering about the interval of the samples to be taken and a possible decrease once profiles are established.

Vroomen claims that for athletes the deterrent is not the fact that there exist those individual profiles but that there are constantly samples taken that keep track of changes and so would prove doping. (but if there are no tests on a regular bases, the are no reference values available)

Furthermore, Deepak and Vroomen talk about the cost of this technology. On the one hand the programme lacks transparency as athletes have not full access to their data. Which leads to defending biological passport cases in court which is quite expensive. (wouldn’t it be easy to avoid those cases by simply making it more transparent?)

And on the other hand the high cost of the programme inhibits the spread of usage. Deepak explains that an average laboratory test is about $400. Athlete Marion Jones was tested 160 times in her career which adds up to $64,000 for a single athlete. The UCI (International Cycling Union) spent about $8 million on anti-doping in 2007, which was 50% of their budget, he continues.

And if we then add the money spent on lawsuit in court there is not a lot of money left for further research and improvement of the passport.

Defending the biological passport

In response to Vroomen’s post the UCI gave a counter statement citing evidence to refute Vroomen’s unsupported claims.

In order to do so they provide statistics that “clearly demonstrate” that Vroomen’s allegations were incorrect.

General statistics for Blood Passport Tests only (excluding urine tests and Tour de France 2010) from July 1st 2010 until April 30th 2011 (period referred to by Mr. Vroomen):


2010: 1074


2011: 1577

This includes out-of-competition controls, pre-competition and in-competition controls on all major events during this period and team training camps.

Teams:


CERVELO
 01.07.2010 – 31.12.2010: 45

GARMIN(-CERVELO)
 01.07.2010 – 30.04.2011: 68

The UCI considers Vroomen’s comments ’’unacceptable given the years of research and investment in this area“.

Good anti-doping test but poor publicity ?

I find it very interesting to see such a sensitive reaction to this one blog post. I am wondering about the reasons.

This new technology is recognized by international experts and it has become a reference used internationally, as stated by UCI on pedalmag.com. And there are people like grannygear that really see the value in the technology. It helped the cycling sport to not continue being ill-reputed due to the high number of athletes using drugs.

But it remains the question of the future development. There has already emerged the discussion about introducing it to more sports like swimming as there have been recently more drug abuse cases than before. But I haven’t heard of any action taken.

Why is it so difficult to spread the use of  biological passport? Wouldn’t the different sports gain better reputation if viewers/ fans would know that their idols are not cheating? To me, this test seems like it provides a better result for the individual athlete. Personal data is compared to each other and it is not one fixed value that is always referred to for every athlete.

So, where does actually lie the problem of further implementation? Legal obstacles? Financial obstacles?

Are you convinced? Would you vote for it if there were democratic elections for it?

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Technologies? No, thanks. It’s a matter of time

In my Human eye vs. “Hawk-Eye” post last week I gave an example of a technology that is used in tennis when there is doubt about a ball having dropped down on the line or outside the field. It will provide us with an animated video showing with a 3-6mm accuracy where the ball hit the ground. (more…)

Apps for horseback riding?

A few days ago I scrolled through our blog and stumbled over Julia’s post about the Nike app that enhances your running experience. I thought that this was a very neat invention and wondered if there is something similar for my type of sport. And yes, there is!!!

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Who runs the world?

As I promised last time in my “getting prepared blog” today I will concentrate on the big competition in sports apparel market between the two giants Nike and Adidas. As you might remember I acquired this topic due to the implementation of a new football shoe that led me to a lot of questions. (more…)

Human eye vs. “Hawk-Eye”

When we started blogging, annehwr already introduced us to the topic of “the role of technologies being used in sports”. In her post she was also referring to the so called “Hawk-Eye” technology and she touched the debate on whether it is a good tool to be used or not.

Being a tennis player, sometimes I of course watch tennis matches and I follow the big tournaments broadcasted on television. But today I will not talk about the players and their play but about a very helpful tool used during first-elite level matches.

Pressure

Over the last decades, tennis sport has experienced a certain development: the equipment has changed, racquets are made from different materials than before and today there are played courts of artificial surfaces.  This all led to a faster play in general. Along with that there have emerged several cases of officials’ line calling that stirred up controversy. So, there has been increasing pressure from all different parts to adopt a system that will give assistance in line-calling.

Today I will give you the “tennis view” on the “Hawk-Eye” technology and in my next post I will give you a debate and an example of a sport that is not benefitting yet from such technology.

What is “Hawk-Eye” ?

Just to give you a quick understandable explanation: “Hawk-Eye” is a line calling system that works with high-speed cameras placed around the court. This system is recording from different angles the balls’ trajectory and can so compute a 3D image of the ball and the spot where it hit the ground.

It is not only about “in” or ‘’out’’

Jason Tsang writes in his blog about the additional use of the “Hawk-Eye” system apart from preventing the umpire of wrong line calls. He states that this tracking system also allows for statistics that can be also shown to the audience. Further he argues that even the players could benefit during the match from the stats displayed as they could adjust their play.

Opponents

Nevertheless, there are doubters of this technology. Most famous person in this context could be Roger Federer being cited: “A pure waste of money.”

It is to mention that according to Jason the system costs approximately $20,000 to $25,000 USD per week for one court.

Bloggers Anonymous and Geoff are challenging the accuracy of the technology as they are wondering about the balls’ compression and skid and the images proportionality. They claim that the images look as though the ball’s entire diameter always comes in contact with the court (as we can see a perfectly round and quite large imprint of the ball).

Jeff Walker adds that the “Hawk-Eye” system takes out the emotion of a match. He says that if we have had replay back then we would have never seen legendary tirades of players against umpires. He declares that this was definitely more entertaining than a computer spitting out a result.

Proponents

But there are a lot of people who are in favor of  “Hawk-Eye”. Jamea Jackson stated that she feels relieved as she is not wasting any more time on getting angry about wrong umpire decisions (and while being angry loosing points). And she disagreed on peoples’ opinion that the system throwing off the timing and the rhythm of the match.

So, to sum it up I think that James Blake gave a good statement on the use of the system as he argued that the speed of the ball sometimes just makes it impossible to see, even for trained people and that a simple replay can eliminate human error.

Obviously it is a good tool but just like Anonymous observes that the system is mostly only used on the center court (the ONE main court of a tournament) it advantages (only) top players as they can challenge line-calls in order to find out if the ball was in or out. I think there must be found a solution for the cost issue, otherwise this technology will instead of gaining representative value, loose it. All players competing in the same tournament should be given access to the same tools.

Technology as a helping Aid

 In my last blog posts I wrote about how technology is used as sport equipment and how it can enhance the athlete’s performance in a competition and maybe give him/her an advantage over the competitors. Also I covered the subject of disability and how technology can enable a disabled person to become an athlete. Now I would like to show you the non-competitive side of technology in sports: Technology as a helping aid in your training.

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Getting prepared for my next blog post

As you might know from my latest blog: I am very interest in sports in general and running in particular. Due to that I came up with the topic of smart shoes and the related communities that definitely generate market advantages for the company Nike.  But today I would like to invite you to be part of my discovery path when researching for my blog to come.

Everything begins with an idea

The idea for my next blog came to my mind as I watched a summary of a football game while I eventually noticed that the team members have to have a sensor in their shoes – that is exact my topic, isn’t it? –  My question was if they really do have one in their shoes? Which company provides them with these sensors? With these questions I started my research in Google blog search and firstly stumbled over a blog that introduced the new and revolutionary football shoe by Adidas. I stopped and thought about the competition between Nike and Adidas. (more…)

A post a week. Not more, not less.

To write one post per week is actually not that much. But the challenge is to find every week a topic that people are interested in and talk about in the specific field that you are interested as well. In my case anything linked with tennis and ball sports.

Finding the topic

I actually end up every Wednesday night typing into Google random phrases like “tennis IT”, “tennis marketing sponsoring” and so on. JUST to find out, that even if I limit the search to “blogs” and “last 30 days” I do not get a lot of valuable results in the first place. For some reason most of the results lead me onto commercial sites where I find only information about what I just typed in but I don’t find discussions about it. Most of them commercial sites that put up their own blogs on their home pages in order to give MORE information about their products. – FAIL.

Should not find topic but PEOPLE discussing a topic

What I did then, was adding “discussion” into my Google search topic. Clicking here, reading there, in the end did lead me to a few tennis blogs but still I did not see that people were arguing about different things.

My topic

The topic I was (I am) interested in, is the issue of referee decisions and technologies that are supposed to back up referee decisions in order to avoid wrong (?!) decision-taking (check out the video I have linked here!) and to guarantee fair matches. This technology – called “Hawk-Eye”– is already used in Cricket and Tennis but also in sports like soccer there are again and again coming up discussions about such kind of technology. In the past we have witnessed a number of obviously wrong referee decisions. If we think back of goals that were not given to the team because the referee announced them invalid. This produced a lot of bad feelings among the spectators and fans because they are feeling betrayed. But on the other hand people are arguing that those technologies are slowing down the flow of a match and that is why they are against launching such technologies. I felt that there must be people out there who are talking about just that.

Found THE blog

As I remember those conflicts from the FIFA World Cup in 2006 in Germany already, I decided to take out the “30 days” limitation because it is a current topic, but not as new and at the moment probably not very much discussed anymore as the last World Cup took place more than a year ago. So, I would probably find more about this topic going back a few months. – And then I stumbled across what I was looking for so badly. Tim published a quite detailed post and gives his opinion on the latest Football Association (FA) announcement that the introduction of Goal-Line technology will be postponed another year.

Where I want to go

So, I will follow that blog and will report on what I found out in my next post.

Apparently this blog post is from 2006 and until 2010 there were people who commented on this blog on tennis players’ comments on the “Hawk-Eye” technology and possible advantages and disadvantages of it.

My Discovery Path of Blogging

When I started posting on this beautiful wordpress blog called “spogging”, I was not really sure where to start, where I wanted to go and how I would go about it. So I decided to investigate technology in sports a little and after writing my first introductory post, I became more interested. I got deeper into a different section of technology in sports (disability) and thinking about the topic of my next blog, it struck me. (more…)

The Role of Technology in Sports

The Role of Technology in Sports

From early on sport has always been very important to humans. You can enjoy it either by playing or watching it but either way it is about winning or seeing someone (or some team) win. To be that winning one an athlete, his/her team, his/her sponsors and whoever might have an influence on the athlete’s career, will keep improving his/her condition, training methods and, very important, the equipment that is being used. And here comes a major conflict point in today’s sports: Until which point should technology be used in sports? And what is its role?

Technology as a part of society and sport – or not?

This blog I found, is from the sport and technology debate at the British science festival in 2011 and the videos of the speakers are very powerful. Professor Haake claims that sport and technology have always coexisted and that technology has always been a part of sports. It started with starting heels for the sprints at the Olympics, the sports equipment like a soccer ball, a lawn mower which promoted lawn sports and a timer, and ended (for now) with portable 3D cameras, high speed videos and mew materials like Titanium, to make sport equipment lighter.

According to Professor Haake sport and technology reflect society and those advancement should be allowed – at least up to a certain point. Dr. Parry, also participating in the debate, also claims that technology changes the sporting events into better ones but for him it is a question of which bits of technology WE want. The people want to see the best athlete and not the best equipment, which can turn the competition into an “unfair” game.

Technology as an unnecessary intervention into natural justice

And then there are the more concrete anti-technology opinions. M_Campbell23 states that decision reviews, video replays and goal-line technology ruin the spectacle of games, and reduce them to clinical, quasi-legal inquiries. The administrators always want to get everything right 100% of the time. This though takes the fun out of the game and up to this point sport had survived as the spectacle, which enthralls us without a sub-committee forming to discuss every contentious decision.

Furthermore the blog explains that what these legal guys will never understand is that sport embraces natural justice; their intervention is not necessary. But they stand behind the argument around “well you’ve got the technology there, doesn’t do any harm to use it”. But according to the author it does do harm.

Technology as a modern tool in sports

According to Lionjkt the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) can enhance the games themselves, secure ticketing and boost the quality of the in-stadium spectator experience. It can add value and visibility to different kinds of sporting events and can avoid bad offside decisions. But not only in soccer but also in other sports, like tennis, or marathon racing, RFID is used. It provides a very accurate timing of each athlete (as in the marathon racing) and also helpful video evidence when it comes to off decisions in tennis and similar sports (which are also enhanced by different methods like the Hawk-Eye line-calling system).

Hawk-Eye line-calling system

Technology in Sports – A Conflict in Society

Sport is very important to most of the people in our society, which makes the conflict about technology even more passionate. Some think that technology leads to better decisions and accuracy but on the other side people find themselves angry with all that technology that destroys the real competition that should be about what humans can do, and replaces it with a competition of “who has the better technology”. I think that up to a certain point technology helps to keep the game fair (in the case of offside decisions for example), but when it comes to the equipment the importance of technology should be limited.