athlete biological passport blood testing | international sports law lawyersThe Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) is an individual electronic record of a professional athlete’s vital biological blood markers over time that are collected during doping control tests. Instead of detecting the use of illegal substances directly, the ABP monitors selected biological variables thought to indirectly reveal the effects of doping.

While traditional approaches of testing for banned substances in urine or blood remain effective, they have limitations in relation to the detection of certain performance-enhancing substances, such as exogenous EPO. With the constant emergence of new or modified substances and designer drugs that may not be detectable in blood or urine, anti-doping agencies have tried to develop new detection strategies, such as the ABP, to deter and detect the use of prohibited substances in sports.

The Evolution of Anti-Doping Measures

Even though the concept of an Athlete Biological Passport is relatively new, the use of biological markers in anti-doping efforts has a long history. For example, one of the earliest attempts at detecting prohibited substances by analyzing deviations in biological parameters, as opposed to direct presence in urine or blood, was the use of the testosterone over epitestosterone ratio (T/E) to detect the use of exogenous testosterone and anabolic steroids. Over a decade later, the first makings of the ABP model started to take shape when international federations like the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) began measuring markers of blood doping to counter the abuse of recombinant erythropoietin, which was then undetectable by conventional means.

The term Athlete Biological Passport gained traction in the early 2000s when it was adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Athlete Biological Passport Testing Modules

ABP testing is structured into three modules: the hematological module, the steroidal module, and the endocrine module.

Hematological Module

This module focuses on markers in the body that indicate the enhancement of oxygen transport. It tests for specific markers such as hematocrit, hemoglobin, reticulocyte count, percentage of reticulocytes, mean corpuscular volume, mean corpuscular hemoglobin, red blood cell count, mean red cell distribution width, and immature reticulocyte fraction.

Steroidal Module

The steroidal module collects information on specific markers used to identify the use of endogenous anabolic androgenic steroids. It tests for markers such as testosterone, epitestosterone, the T/E ratio, etiocholanolone, and androsterone.

Endocrine Model

The endocrine module collects information on markers of human growth hormone (hGH) doping to identify hGH use as well as the use of hGH analogs, fragments, and releasing factors. This module may also indicate the use of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).

What Athletes Need to Report During the Collection Process

As part of the ABP collection process, you should report:

  • Where you are staying, since altitude can affect test results
  • Any recent significant blood loss, whether from a cut, blood in stool, or heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Recent illnesses such as COVID-19 or the flu
  • Any unusual physical symptoms

As a precaution, Global Sports Advocates recommends that you seek medical attention whenever you are feeling unwell. This not only protects your overall health, but also provides you with documentation about your symptoms, illness, and treatment plan that can be used if your ABP returns an atypical finding. Additionally, if the healthcare provider runs their own blood test, this can be used to provide a comparison to the ABP results, which can be helpful.

Accessing Recent Test Values

You can access your recent test values in the Anti-Doping Administration & Management System (ADAMS). The ABP can double as a health screen by allowing you to check parameters such as hemoglobin and red blood cell count for signs of illness, infection, anemia, and over-training.

Effect on Performance

You might be concerned about the effect of repeated blood draws on your performance. However, the ABP requires a modest amount of blood, typically measuring under two tablespoons (approximately 15 mL), for testing. This is minimal compared to the total blood volume in a human body, which ranges from about 200 to 400 tablespoons (3,000 to 6,000 mL) depending on your size and gender. As such, the testing process should have no discernible impact on your performance.

Consequences of an Atypical Finding

If you are tested for the ABP, you will start to compile a profile of blood parameters over a period of time that will be assessed as “normal” for you. If there is an atypical value after one of your tests, this will trigger a review by a panel of three experts.

There are three possible outcomes to an expert panel’s analysis:

  • The panel finds there is no case for a “use” anti-doping rule violation under Article 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Code and the matter is dismissed.
  • The panel makes a request for more targeted testing.
  • The panel finds you have a case to answer for the abnormalities seen in your ABP.

If your ABP is deemed abnormal, you will have an opportunity to provide a non-doping explanation for the unusual changes in the markers flagged by the expert panel. Possible explanations could include illnesses, altitude adjustments, and various other medical conditions.

After reviewing the athlete’s explanation, if the expert panel is still satisfied that an Article 2.2 anti-doping rule violation can be made, the athlete will then be charged with an anti-doping rule violation and have the right to go to a hearing.

Since the consequences of an anti-doping violation can put your future athletic career at risk, you should consult our experienced sports law attorneys as soon as possible if your ABP has returned an atypical finding. We will evaluate your testing records and help you determine your next steps.