Biological passport

Biological passport

Not to be confused with a biometric passport.

An athlete biological passport is an individual, electronic record for professional athletes, in which profiles of biological markers of doping and results of doping tests are collated over a period of time. Doping violations can be detected by noting variances from an athlete’s established levels outside permissible limits, rather than testing for and identifying illegal substances.[1]

Although the terminology athlete passport is recent, the use of biological markers of doping has a long history in anti-doping. Maybe the first marker of doping, that tries to detect a prohibited substance not based on its presence in urine or blood, but through the induced deviations in biological parameters, is the so-called testosterone over epitestosterone ratio (T/E). The T/E has been used by sports authorities since the beginning of the 1980s to detect anabolic steroids in urine samples. A decade later, in 1997, markers of blood doping were introduced by some international federations, such as the Union Cycliste Internationale and the Federation Internationale de Ski, to deter the abuse of recombinant erythropoietin that was undetectable by direct means at that time. It is only in 2002 that the paradigm to use biological markers of doping took the terminology 'athlete passport. The merits of this testing paradigm were exposed in the scientific literature [2] and the terminology adopted by the World Anti-Doping agency.[3]

Many believe that the athlete passport provides an excellent alternative to ensure fairness in elite sports. While a new drug test must be developed and validated for each new drug, the main advantage of the athlete passport is that it is based on the stability of the physiology of the human being. New drugs are produced at an unprecedented pace today and there is often a lag of several years between the availability of a new drug and the application of an effective detection method. On the contrary, the physiology of the human being remains the same through several generations and all biomarkers developed today in the athlete passport will remain valid for at least several decades. For example, the blood module of the passport is already sensitive today to any new future form of recombinant erythropoietin, as well as to any form of gene doping that will enhance oxygen transfer to the muscles. Also, while a negative drug test does not necessarily mean that the athlete did not dope, the athlete can present his/her passport at the beginning of a competition to attest that he/she will compete in his/her natural, unaltered condition.

The athlete passport has received a lot of attention when its blood module was established at the beginning of the 2008 racing season by the Union Cycliste Internationale.[4] In May 2008 the UCI revealed that 23 riders were under suspicion of doping following the first phase of blood tests conducted under the new biological passport.[5] The blood module of the athlete passport aims to detect any form of blood doping, the steroid module any form of doping with anabolic steroid and the endocrine module any modification of the growth hormone/IGF-1 axis. Each of these modules are however at different steps of development, validation and application in sports.

Whereabouts Rules

Under these strict new rules registered riders have to let the UCI know where they are 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They have to submit a form every quarter saying where they will be every day of the next quarter and they must notify the UCI if they change their whereabouts on any day. This means the whereabouts information provided in the whereabouts filings is accurate and sufficient in detail to enable any Anti-Doping Organization to locate him for Testing on any given day in the quarter. [6] This is by far the most invasive testing regime in the history of any sport. Its justifications are that all other regimes to find drug cheats has failed.

Cyclists sanctioned on the basis of their biological passport

The biological passport programme has allowed the Union Cycliste Internationale to sanction riders for committing an anti-doping rule violation. Riders have also been targeted with further doping controls based on their biological passport.

  • Igor Astarloa received a two-year sanction as a result of abnormalities detected in his biological passport.[7]
  • Pietro Caucchioli received a two-year sanction as a result of abnormalities detected in his biological passport.[8]
  • Antonio Colom tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition control in April 2009, after having been targeted under the biological passport programme. He received a two-year sanction.[9]
  • Francesco De Bonis received a two-year sanction as a result of abnormalities detected in his biological passport.[10]
  • Thomas Dekker tested positive for EPO in a retroactive test carried out on a urine sample taken in December 2007. Dekker's hematological profile led the UCI to review the EPO analyses for urine samples conducted since the introduction of the biological passport programme.[11]
  • Franco Pellizotti received a two-year sanction as a result of abnormalities detected in his biological passport.[8]
  • Ricardo Serrano received a two-year sanction after being caught under the UCI's biological passport programme. Evidence against Serrano was based on an abnormal haematological profile and two laboratory reports indicating the detection of CERA in two of his blood samples.[12]
  • Tadej Valjavec received a two-year sanction as a result of abnormalities detected in his biological passport.[13]
  • Sergio ribeiro received a twelve-year sanction as a result of abnormalities in his biological passport over a two year period. He received a longer sanction as this was his second doping offence.[14]


External links

  • UCI Biological Passport - Questions / Answers
  • Biological Passport - The Science Behind the Olympics
  • - The Blood Passport in the Olympics