It's almost as easy as sending a text. Open an app on the cell phone, type in a few words, click a box or two. To really make the system work, though, athletes have to be where they say they'll be at the time they say they'll be there.
Lately, some high-profile names in track and field have been making a mess of what's supposed to be a simple process of letting drug testers know where they will be for one hour each day.
World champions Christian Coleman and Salwa Eid Naser could miss the Olympics for what are known in the antidoping world as whereabouts failures — the failure to be where they said they'd be when testers came calling, unannounced, to collect a urine or blood sample. It's part of a system of no-notice, out-of-competition testing that is considered the best deterrent to illicit drug use in sports.
Other recent cases — one involving a British hammer thrower who said he was fishing when he really went to see his mom, another involving a Russian high jumper whose whereabouts forms were forged by team officials — have only heightened the feeling that a routine piece of bookkeeping can be anything but that. They've also placed the taint of doping on athletes who haven't tested positive, but are accused of breaking the rules, nonetheless.
The cluster of recent cases runs contrary to the reality that most athletes have very little problem keeping their whereabouts information current, then being where they say they'll be. Since early 2001, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's whereabouts system began, there have been 21 whereabouts sanctions out of 175,000 completed tests. That's 0.00012%. USADA said it finds athletes 88% of the time on the first try.
Global numbers tell the same story. In 2018, for instance, there were a total of 34 whereabouts violations among a worldwide pool of between 20,000 and 30,000 athletes (the number changes from season to season), virtually all of whom are tested multiple times during a single year.
“Just respect the hour slot, be where you need to be,” British race walker Tom Bosworth told The Associated Press in an email, referencing a time he interrupted his beach vacation to wait in a hotel for testers. "If athletes are missing more than three, then simply for respect and integrity of sport, they shouldn’t be anywhere near the top level of sport.”
Coleman is face-to-face with that possibility.