ROME, Nov 29 — Organisers of the 2026 Winter Olympics are unsure if doping tests can be carried out in Italy as the country’s only Wada-accredited testing site is not ready for the Milan-Cortina event with just over two years until it starts.
Rome’s FMSI laboratory is nestled between rugby and hockey fields and fencing halls at an Italian Olympic Committee training centre to the north of the centre of the Eternal City, and is in the crosshairs of the world’s anti-doping authority.
“We’re in a race against time, and we don’t have any more to lose,” says the laboratory’s director Francesco Botre.
“Wada carried out an inspection in 2017 and had nothing to say about the quality of our work. But they told us that our lab is too small and in too close proximity to the athletes.
“They told us we had two years to expand the facility, but in meantime the 2026 Winter Games were assigned to Milan-Cortina. There was no way the proposed expansion could have handled the increase in testing for the Olympics so Wada gave us more time.”
This increase, or 150 samples per day during the Olympic and Paralympic Games (to be held respectively between February 6-22 and March 6-15), would take the number of annual analyses carried out from the current 12,000 to 20,000.
That “Olympic overload” would be an impossible task for the current team of 25 in the 400 square-metre lab, which is significantly smaller than the 3000m2 available in the facility being used for next year’s summer Olympics in Paris.
In stasis for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, the expansion project didn’t really get going until this year, with a building identified which is “isolated and self-sufficient as Wada requires”.
But they need 11 million euros of funding for planning, the purchase of new analysis equipment and the actual move, a sum which will increase to around 20 million euros once operational costs during the Games are taken into account.
The Milan-Cortina organisation committee has referred all questions to Italy’s Sport Ministry, which did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment despite the clear state of urgency.
In order to be fully operational one year before the start of the Winter Games as required by Wada, Botre and his team will need to have relocated no later than July next year.
“Afterwards there will be all the work of calibrating the equipment so that they can identify 400 different substances,” says Botre.
If the Rome facility is not ready on time, testing will have to be carried out abroad, in Paris or Cologne. That would be a new blow for organisers who due to a lack of time, money and political will are likely to send the Games’ sliding events north of the Alps.
“Wada’s opinion is that the laboratory facility is not currently in a position to deal with the increased activity associated with hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games”.
“If the Rome laboratory, including the facility, cannot deliver what is required for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and IPC (International Paralympic Committee) will need to use a different Wada-accredited laboratory or laboratories to deliver the anti-doping analysis for those events.”
Botre says he is “optimistic” ahead of a summit on the issue next month, but he is aware that other Wada-accredited European labs would be capable of carrying out the work, even with logistical issues regarding “the transportation of samples, as well as athletes should there be a need for counter-analysis”.
He is also concerned for the future of his lab: “I’m afraid that if we miss the chance given to us by the Olympics, we will never have a new laboratory and we could even end up closing.” — AFP