Athletes, be warned: rolling the dice with supplements may cost you your career, your income and leave a permanent stain on your reputation.

That was the key message from Sport Ireland yesterday as they unveiled the 2017 Anti-Doping Review, a 31-page breakdown of testing statistics which addresses their chief areas of concern with doping in sport.

And almost two years on from Brendan O’Sullivan’s positive test, the Kerry footballer’s case is being put forward as a cautionary tale for sportspeople who continue to play Russian roulette with pills, powders and other dubious supplements.

The most pertinent piece of information released yesterday was a 14-page guideline to supplement use in sport, aimed at athletes and their support personnel.

Given that a recent survey revealed half of our high-performing athletes use supplements, it marks a change of emphasis by Sport Ireland – if you can’t stop athletes taking supplements, at least have them do it safely.

“They will take them regardless of our [advice], but we want to make sure that those who take them are doing it for the right reasons and with the right advice,” said Dr Una May, Sport Ireland’s Director of Participation and Ethics.

“There are times when an athlete may need a supplement and our goal is to provide the information to do it as safely as possible. Number one: assess the need, get some medical support.”

On average, studies have shown that 10-25% of supplements are contaminated with ingredients not listed on the label, while a 2013 study revealed that at least 10% of supplements manufactured by leading European sports brands contained traces of banned anabolic steroids.

“The risk is if it contains something,” said May.

If you get this wrong, you could end up with a four-year ban and your reputation irreparably damaged. It can lead to someone being tarnished for a long time as a doper when in fact they made a mistake.

The most high-profile example of that in recent years was O’Sullivan, who tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine in April 2016, a revelation which only came to light in May last year.

The Kerry player ended up serving a reduced suspension of 21 weeks, having satisfied the disciplinary panel that he had inadvertently ingested the stimulant through a caffeine supplement purchased on a friend’s advice.

That supplement, Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech, was among a range of products produced by Falcon Labs recalled yesterday by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which deemed them to carry a risk to health.

Sport Ireland conducted a total of 989 anti-doping tests last year, with just one coming up positive, and May declined to offer any further details on that case, only noting that it occurred in the latter half of 2017 and that it is still pending.

Cycling and athletics were the most tested sports in 2017, with 189 and 188 tests respectively, while next up was rugby which accounted for 145 tests.

In addition, Sport Ireland also conducted 315 ‘user pays’ tests on behalf of 10 national and international organisations.

As debate continues to rage about the use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) – which permit banned substances when required for a medical need – it was revealed that there were 27 successful TUE applications made to Sport Ireland last year, with rugby and athletics accounting for six apiece.


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