The World Anti-Doping Agency has suspended Rio’s new laboratory just six weeks before the start of the Olympics, plunging plans to deter cheats this summer into crisis.
It is the second time in three years the lab, which has been completely refurbished at a cost of £18m, has lost its accreditation to do drug tests.
It is also the sixth lab to lose its WADA credentials in recent months, joining Beijing, Bloemfontein, Lisbon, Madrid and Moscow as currently out of action.
The Rio facility, known as LADETEC, has been designed to do as many as 6,000 tests during the Games, but blood and urine samples will now have to be sent abroad, as they were during the 2014 World Cup.
Football’s governing body FIFA chose to transport the samples to the WADA lab in Lausanne, an operation that cost £180,000 and significant embarrassment to the Brazilian government.
“WADA will work closely with the Rio Laboratory to resolve the identified issue,” said WADA’s incoming director general Olivier Niggli.
“The agency will ensure that samples that would have been intended for the lab will be transported securely, promptly and with a demonstrable chain of custody to another WADA-accredited laboratory.
“This will ensure that there are no gaps in the anti-doping sample analysis procedures, and that the integrity of samples is fully maintained.
“Athletes can have confidence the suspension will only be lifted by WADA when the laboratory is operating optimally.”
The nearest functioning anti-doping labs to Rio are in Colombia and Cuba, although they are not thought to be suitable for the scale of an Olympic drug-testing operation.
Officials in Brazil were informed there were problems with their procedures on Tuesday, a day after Niggli and WADA president Sir Craig Reedie had been singing the lab’s praises at an anti-doping conference in London.
The provisional suspension is for six months but a WADA disciplinary committee will be formed shortly to make a more long-term decision.
While this is clearly concerning and inconvenient for WADA and the International Olympic Committee, it is another humiliation for the Brazilian authorities.
Already struggling with a major public-health concern in the shape of the Zika virus, the worst recession in decades and political turmoil, preparations for this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics could hardly have gone worse.
There are major worries about the readiness of key infrastructure and venues and ticket sales have been sluggish.
WADA’s current director general David Howman, who will be replaced by Niggli later this month, told New Zealand’s Fairfax Media that the lab’s problems were “pretty disturbing”.
He said the lab had produced a number of “false positives”, which is the same problem it had in 2014.