The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published results of a study examining the prevalence of athletes with Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) and their Olympic medal results. Athletes competing at five Summer and Winter Olympic Games between 2010 and 2018 were included.
Per the study carried out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Medical Director Dr. Alan Vernec and TUE Manager David Healy concluded that there is no meaningful association between an athlete having a TUE and winning a medal at an Olympic Games.
As a reminder, if the medication an athlete is required to take to treat an illness or condition happens to fall under the WADA Prohibited List, a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) may give that athlete the authorization to take the needed medicine.
During the five Olympic Games between 2010 and 2018, there were 20,139 athlete competitions and 2,062 medals awarded. Athletes competed with a TUE in 0.9% (181 out of 20,139) of athlete competitions. There were 21 out of 2,062 medals won by athletes with a TUE. The risk ratio for winning a medal with a TUE was therefore 1.13 (CI:0.73-1.65 p=0.54) and the adjusted risk ratio was 1.07 (CI: 0.69-1.56 p=0.73).
Dr. Vernec said, “The percentage of athletes with TUEs competing in elite sport and the association with winning medals has been a matter of speculation in the absence of validated competitor data. The Olympic Games provide a unique opportunity to analyze sport at the highest level with a clearly defined group of competing athletes.
“The data showed that the number of athletes competing with valid TUEs (in individual competitions) at the selected Games was less than 1%. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that there is no meaningful association between competing with a TUE and the likelihood of winning a medal.”
Dr. Vernec added, “The TUE Program is a necessary part of sport allowing athletes with legitimate medical conditions to compete on a level playing field. It has overwhelming acceptance from athletes, physicians and anti-doping stakeholders, and there is a stringent process in place to avoid abuse of the system. The results of this study provide objective data to dispel some of the misunderstandings and misgivings surrounding TUEs.”
You can read the study in its entirety here.
It’s interesting to review this latest study against the backdrop of data released over 2 years ago specific to Winter Olympic athletes. A study conducted at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences determined that up to 1 in 4 winter Olympians had asthma, the condition that constricts the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
It was found that, during the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, 5.2 percent of athletes had asthma, but that group won 15.6 percent of the medals. The study observed the same effect in Torino in 2006 (7.7 percent of athletes with asthma won 14.4 percent of the medals) and Vancouver in 2010 (7.1 percent of athletes with asthma won 11.8 percent of the medals).
You can read more about the asthma/winter athletes study here.