The old Lewis Carroll quote “Curiouser and curiouser” seemed at times appropriate.
Here in Ireland, we’re putting in a huge anti-doping effort but the logic of this strategy can be hard to follow and there seems to be lots of inconsistencies abroad.
A few days ago, the Irish Sports Council (ISC) released their 2013 anti-doping statistics and as an athlete on the registered testing pool, I was interested in learning more. Across 32 sports, there were 862 tests and the cost of this programme was just over €1.2m. Athletics is viewed as a high-risk sport in terms of doping and the urine and blood testing is rigorous, making it one of the most targeted sports.
The ISC welcomed Dr Hans Geyer of the Centre for Preventive Doping Research at the University of Cologne to address the gathering. He spoke about an interesting area in the anti-doping world, which is retrospective testing. This basically means that drug samples can be re-tested at future dates, when new tests are developed to further detect performance enhancing drugs. Drugs that are undetected now may be easily detected in a few years and frozen samples may tell a different story a decade from now.
Anti-doping agencies are traditionally on the back foot when it comes to testing for the right substances. The cheats may have moved onto the next designer drug by the time the testers have figured out how to catch them. How many tests did Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong take that came back clean before eventually being caught out?
I’m a big fan of retrospective testing as it gives clean athletes a little more hope that the cheats who don’t get caught immediately may get caught in the future.
For those who may need reasons to steer clear of doping, this provides that motivation. At the very least, it puts a doubt in the mind of cheaters, that one day there may be consequences, even if that’s years down the line.
I am still concerned about the huge variation in drug testing programmes in different countries, a topic I mentioned here a few months ago. Dr Brendan Buckley, chair of the Irish Anti-Doping Committee, said that in Ireland we can expect a podium finish when it comes to enforcing anti-doping policy and at least no one can question the integrity of Irish performances.
In my opinion, the worldwide standard should be the same.
Right now, the evidence seems to indicate that other nations are far, far less stringent than us. Whilst retrospective testing is a great addition to anti-doping, it will only work if the samples have been collected in the first place. In my opinion, there should be minimum standards in terms of number of tests that each country has to adhere to. As a competitor and a fan of the sport, I’d like to know that each athlete has had a certain number of drug tests each year.
It’s estimated that the men’s 100m Olympic final had two billion viewers worldwide. With this level of popularity, the sport should ensure it’s as credible as possible. Wouldn’t it be amazing to get to a point where you could watch the final and know that each athlete had a catalogue of samples frozen in a lab somewhere and that each sample would be re-tested in the future. Samples from training camps, competitions and from the Olympic final.
Out-of-competition tests are also very important. Sometimes the figures about anti-doping programmes are misleading, the number of tests carried out might be relatively high but these tests might be predominantly taken at a competition. This means athletes aren’t being monitored during heavy training periods, which is when the risk of doping is greatest. Blood and urine from training phases are essential, if you want to be certain an athlete is clean. I believe minimum standards for testing frequency, out-of-competition testing and blood testing are essential.
Whilst at home the anti-doping focus is clear, it seems a lot more muddled abroad. Everyone heard about the high profile positives last summer, when Tyson Gay, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson all had positive tests. In terms of drug busts, there are various levels of infractions, basically the seriousness of it depends on the substance and this is generally reflected in the sentence given.
Trying to understand the recent events with these cases isn’t easy. Powell and Simpson tested positive for a stimulant, which on the scale of offences would normally be considered a relatively minor one. Their defence centred around proving that the supplements they took were contaminated and the case concluded with both being handed 18-month sentences. This is one of the longest sentences to be given to a stimulant case and both are taking their cases to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).
As an athlete, I’m responsible for everything I ingest and if a positive test happens, the burden of proof is on me to show why. Stimulants are found in many products and are something athletes need to be hyper-vigilant about. Considering the previous sanctions for stimulants, it will be interesting to see what CAS will do with the Powell and Simpson case. One thing is for sure, the amount of time the case has dragged on, has done nothing to help the sport’s profile.
Tyson Gay’s case is still unknown. It’s believed to be for a more serious infraction and the track world is awaiting word on his future. Similarly, almost a year has passed since the news broke. Veronica Campbell-Brown, double Olympic sprint champion, won a hearing in the CAS and has been cleared to compete. This in itself was messy with her case going from a public warning, to a ban, to an eventual clearing of her name. None of it seems very clear. No doubt these stories will rumble on for a few more months. Hopefully the logic becomes easier to follow and the world of drugs and anti-doping gets less curious.