Re-testing programme warning for drug cheats

THE Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme manager, Dr Una May, has warned drugs cheats will be hunted down and punished through more sophisticated testing and profiling technology.

The Sports Council published its annual anti-doping report yesterday on a day it was confirmed that six samples taken and stored after the Beijing Olympics had proved positive for the new form of EPO named MIRCERA when they were re-analysed. The IAAF confirmed it had been advised by the International Olympic Committee that three athletes had returned positive tests and a cyclist was also named among newly failed samples.

“They might think they are beating the system,” said Dr May. “But the fact that the samples are being saved and stored until better tests come out means there is a real sign it is not as safe as they thought and those who would have thought they got away with it in Beijing are being picked up.

“People can still be re-tested. The samples taken at the Olympic Games are being stored for eight years and then if a new test comes up for something totally new, they will be taken back out again and re-analysed.They might think they are safe but they just might get a surprise somewhere down the road.

“In every walk of life people will find ways around the system and it would be naïve to think that we will ever totally and utterly eradicate the problem,” she said. “But I think we are getting closer and there is a realisation out there that the way we are working is changing because we are getting involved in different approaches to anti-doping and not just testing, even though testing will always remain as the basis of what we do.

“There are new approaches and people are working with the likes of Customs and developing links in other parts and maybe looking at biological profiles of athletes. It’s not just one-off tests — it’s looking for abnormalities in what would appear to be normal for them on one day and you might not identify a substance but you might identify an abnormality which would definitely indicate something is going on.”

However, she insisted: “I don’t think we have a huge problem in Ireland. We have a very strong programme which helps and that’s a big deterrent for athletes — it’s well recognised that it is a good programme and therefore any athlete who chooses to take their chances is taking a bigger chance here than they might in other places.

“We have been developing our education programme. We rolled that out in a big way last year and have developed a whole new programme aimed at developmental athletes who might be at an age where they are going to start considering this for the first time. It is aimed at the issues of supplements and things like that — the sort of issues they are facing at that level — and we are quite pleased at the way that’s going.

“It has to be taken into consideration that if an athlete is looking for a sort of short cut — even if it is by a legitimate means now — somewhere down the road they might run out of legitimate short cuts and might have to resort to something else. It is type of culture we are trying to remove.”

The IAAF said yesterday that the new cases notified by the IOC were confidential so they would not be confirming the names or nationalities of any athletes involved.

And the issue of confidentially was raised yesterday with the chairman of the Anti-Doping Committee, Professor Brendan Buckley, who said that Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony, should not have been named in last year’s high profile case until the process had been completed.

“He wasn’t named by us,” he said. “Our policy is only when athletes have been found guilty by due process of the Tribunal should their names come out.

“Of course we can’t control what happens outside. Our process is that we notify the governing body and then it’s up to them and to the athlete to keep it confidential. We have held to that very tightly. ”

As regards the delay in getting it finalised he said that, too, was outside their control. The GAA had chosen to set up their own tribunal and they were entitled to do that.

“The GAA have a lot of expertise because it is such a huge organisation,” he said. “They have a very effective and very good medical committee and they are not short of members who have legal expertise so it is entirely within their competence to put a process together.”

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