By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - With four laboratories under suspension the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency moved on Thursday to reassure jittery athletes that they can have confidence in testing protocols ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Laboratories in Beijing, Lisbon and Bloemfontein have all recently been handed suspensions, joining a Russian lab that had its accreditation revoked following a WADA probe that identified systematic failures within the country's anti-doping program.
"Understandably, some athletes might question whether, in light of these suspensions, they can retain full confidence in anti-doping sample analysis procedures," WADA president Craig Reedie said in a statement.
"It is important for athletes to note that, as a result of these suspensions, all samples will now be transported securely to one of the remaining 31 WADA-accredited laboratories worldwide, thereby ensuring that there are no gaps in the anti-doping sample analysis procedures."
The Beijing and Lisbon labs were suspended in April for failing to meet International Standard for Laboratories standards while Bloemfontein, Africa's only lab for testing blood and urine of athletes, was shut down this week to allow the update of facilities.
Reedie pointed out the suspensions are a result of WADA’s strengthened laboratory monitoring process, which he said is proof to athletes they can have confidence in test results, collection and protocol.
"The robust procedures we have introduced include a more stringent External Quality Assessment Scheme and more frequent laboratory site visits," said Reedie.
"It is for this very reason that clean athletes should have full confidence in the system: if a laboratory is found not to be conforming with WADA’s standards, their accreditation is suspended pending the necessary requirements being met."
When failures are uncovered WADA requires laboratories to reassess results of past analysis and reanalyze past athlete samples from a determined period of time.
"Athletes need not be concerned that the laboratory’s past sample analysis would be in any way compromised by the suspension," said Reedie.
"I can assure you that WADA is committed to supporting all of its accredited laboratories in maintaining or reaching the agency’s more stringent laboratory monitoring standards; and, with this, athletes can have full confidence that this, too, is a strong link of the anti-doping chain."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)