Doping scandals, open data, and the emergence of the quantified athlete

Blood-doping data from 12,000 tests and 5,000 athletes has been leaked to The Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD/WRD by a whistleblower at the International Association of Athletics Federations. According to a report in The Guardian, the data suggested that “a third of medals, including 55 golds, in endurance events at Olympics and world championships between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes who recorded suspicious tests.”

On the one hand, this may show that the Snowden Effect is starting to spread to new fields, as the debate around the value of whistleblowing encourages others to step forward with information of public interest. On the other, the suggestion that so many secret tests were “suspicious” and yet not revealed, underlines how transparency could be used both to police athletics and regain public confidence in the fairness of competition results.

Another possibility, of course, is that the athletes themselves could also share some of their physical data directly, to demonstrate that their performances were natural. Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, Team Sky released the performance data for the British cyclist Chris Froome “in a bid to stem the stream of doping speculation surrounding the Briton in this year’s Tour de France.” Froome is quoted as saying: “I’m not sure if numbers are going to fix everything, but certainly I feel as a team and myself, we’re definitely trying to be as open and transparent as possible.”

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