In this photo taken on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, a piece of scientific equipment in Russia's national drug-testing laboratory in Moscow, Russia. Russia is accused of manipulating an archive of doping data from a laboratory in Moscow, which was meant to be a peace offering to the World Anti-Doping Agency to solve earlier disputes. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

MONTREAL  The World Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday more athletes are being caught cheating but it often lacks the resources to investigate.

WADA published statistics showing that 1,804 doping rule violations were recorded in 2017 — the most recent year for which statistics are available — with a 13.1% rise on the year before.

Italian athletes racked up the most violations with 171, followed by competitors from France and the United States. Russia, which on Thursday said it plans to appeal wide-ranging sanctions imposed by WADA, placed fifth.

While the number of offenses is on the rise, the total number is middling in historical terms, ranking below 2013, 2014 and 2015. Bodybuilding was found to be the dirtiest sport with 266 violations, followed by track and field and cycling.

Drug tests aren't the only tool at WADA's disposal. Investigations of athletes and coaches are increasingly important, with 345 violations found in 2017, the highest number on record and a 28% rise compared to the year before.

However, WADA's own investigations unit is struggling to cope with an “acute” lack of resources, according to an audit published Thursday.

The audit said the quality of work was “exceptional” but investigating a vast archive of Russian doping data — which WADA later found had been doctored — put strain on the unit.

Relegating other investigations to “secondary importance” risks that “the department (and through it, WADA) could be criticized for choosing and executing on its objectives arbitrarily," the audit said.

“For the credibility of anti-doping, it is also essential to process all sources of information. That is not currently possible,” the report said, adding that some personnel risked burnout.

AP