ALMOST a decade ago, as the London 2012 Olympics approached, we were told it would be the cleanest Olympic Games ever. 

As I prepared to be a member of Team GB myself, I remember well the optimism surrounding the London Games and the insistence by so many that the doping controversies that had marred so many previous Olympics would not be repeated in London. 

The nine years since those Olympics have well and truly debunked those promises that doping would not mar the 2012 Games. 

Rather than be the cleanest Olympics ever, London 2012 now has the unenviable tag of ‘dirtiest Games ever’, with a record number of athletes disqualified for doping offences in the years since. The current tally stands at 139 disqualifications, 39 of those athletes were medallists, 13 gold. 

A particular low-light was the women’s 1500m final, which has now seen six of the top-nine finishers test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. 

Olympic organisers have learnt their lesson from London’s foolhardy predictions, with no claims of the sort being bandied about since. 

Not only, however, are there few predicting that Tokyo this summer will be clean, the signs are that doping could play a bigger part than at any previous Olympics. 

The global pandemic has affected the world in far more serious ways than disrupting sport but for those athletes who have dedicated their lives to competing on the biggest sporting stage of all, the pandemic has thrown up issues that may well have opened the door for drugs cheats in a way not seen since anti-doping testing became widespread. 

Earlier this week, double Olympic triathlon medallist, Jonny Brownlee, admitted he is concerned that drugs cheats could well be exploiting the reduced levels of testing caused by the pandemic. 

He revealed he had recently been required to take a test via Zoom, taking his phone to the toilet to prove it was his sample, and he voiced his concerns that potential cheats will know there are holes in the system caused by the pandemic that could well be exploited. 

Testing numbers in the UK were down in 2020, with significantly fewer tests completed than the previous year. Figures for other countries are likely to be similar, if not even more dire. 

It would be naïve in the extreme to think that exploiting the disruption to anti-doping has not, at the very least, been considered by potential cheats.  

Even pre-pandemic, it is widely acknowledged that the drug testing programme is behind the dopers, and that many cheats get away with it. 

That the restrictions caused by Covid made human contact almost impossible for large portions of the past year will have come as music to the ears of unscrupulous athletes. 

Most athletes do not dope, and their major concern over the past year will have been solely how to get the most from far from ideal training conditions.  

But we all know too well that there is a sizeable number of athletes who are willing to step over the line, and the pandemic has made that significantly easier. 

UK Anti-Doping has said the numbers of tests they are conducting are on the rise, as they attempt to return to pre-Covid levels of testing. 

Can the same be said for all other nations though? Unlikely. 

The Tokyo Olympics have been faced by quite unprecedented challenges, and the fact they are going to go ahead at all is a triumph.  

However, just as we have seen positive tests emerge in the years following the conclusion of London 2012, the coming years may see similarly depressing updates about the results from Tokyo. 


Ever since World Athletics introduced their controversial regulations a few years ago around testosterone levels in female athletes, the future of Caster Semenya’s career has been in question. 

The South African won 800m gold at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics but the testosterone ruling, which requires female runners competing in distances between 400m and 1500m to have testosterone levels under a certain level, means she had a real dilemma on her hands. 

The 30-year-old has naturally-occurring high levels of testosterone and as they are outwith World Athletics’ limit, she was forced to decide if she was going to take testosterone suppressants or else forgo her right to compete in her chosen distance. 

She chose the latter. 

Since then, she has tried her hand at both the shorter distances and longer distances, performing admirably at both. 

Last year, she revealed she was aiming for a place at the Olympics in the 200m but this week, after successfully defending her national 5000m title, she admitted the sprint distance was just too testing for what she called her ageing body. 

Competing in the 5000m in Tokyo is still on the cards, although Semenya has been quick to point out that for her, it is not about the Olympics, rather it is about being healthy and enjoying her running. 

While a third Olympic appearance may not be a priority for the South African, I would love to see her in Tokyo. 

The nuances of her case are numerous and complicated but it is hard to think she has not been unfairly targeted by her sport’s governing body. 

It would have been easy for Semenya to admit defeat and hang up her spikes at any point in recent years, and few could have blamed her for making such a decision. 

Not a natural distance runner, another Olympic medal would be unlikely in Tokyo. But it would be quite a statement for her to make it to yet another Olympics having had so many obstacles to overcome in recent years.