Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cat and Mouse

As attendees at our Tackling Doping in Sport conferences will confirm, catching drug cheats in sport is a complex, ever-changing game of cat and mouse. Athletes constantly discover new substances or new methods that provide an advantage and are either not on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Prohibited List, or are harder to detect than previous methods. In attempting to catch the real cheats, there is a danger that athletes with no intention of cheating are caught in the crossfire.

Our two main August news articles are illustrations of this. Although the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has been successful in convicting Lance Armstrong for doping, it is a victory by default. Armstrong has never failed a drug test and has not admitted doping. USADA was able to ban him and annul his results as his failure to contest USADA's charges was seen as tantamount to an admission of guilt. There is even a question mark over whether USADA has the authority to do this, as August's lead news article illustrates.

By refusing to contest USADA's charges, Armstrong has ensured that allegations that he was given prior notice of tests and that test results were covered up may never be fully investigated. His sanction may even be reduced, if the UCI does decide to contest USADA's ability to sanction Armstrong. In other words, has the cat actually caught the mouse, or has the mouse evaded capture?

As dopers discover new substances and methods to cheat, anti-doping authorities amend their regulations in order to keep pace. Innocent athletes must also try to keep up with the pace of change, in order to avoid unintentionally falling foul of the ever-changing regulations. August's second news article concerns methylhexaneamine, a substance that has led to numerous unintentional doping violations by athletes who have either checked the ingredients of supplements against the Prohibited List, or have been told by support staff that a supplement is safe to take. The reason is that methylhexaneamine is also known by a number of other names, yet only methylhexaneamine appears on the Prohibited List. Therefore an athlete checking supplement ingredients such as DMAA or 1,3-dimethylamylamine will not find them on the List, convincing them that the supplement is safe to take. It is not. Both DMAA and 1,3-dimethylamylamine are alternative names for methylhexaneamine.

What is needed to prevent either situation from happening again in the future is clear regulation. We may never get to the bottom of the Lance Armstrong situation because of USADA and the UCI's failure to work together, due to unclear regulation about who has jurisdiction for sanctioning retired riders, the burden of proof required and how far back that sanctioning power should stretch. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's move to eradicate products containing DMAA from the UK market may help prevent UK athletes from committing unintentional doping violations in the future, however athletes from other countries remain at risk. WADA needs to come up with a system that records and logs alternative names for banned substances so that athletes are reliably informed about what they are actually taking. Unless these issues are sorted out, anti-doping could suffer a loss of credibility, and the mouse could continue to evade capture.

Andy Brown


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