Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Paul Wright | Revamping our anti-doping measures

Published:Tuesday | December 19, 2017 | 12:05 AM
Chris Froome

The news of an adverse analytical finding in a urine sample taken from British cycling sensation Chris Froome during an event in September this year has put the reputation of cycling once more facing total condemnation.

Ever since the exposure of cycling great Lance Armstrong as a serial cheater, cycling has been trying to regain the trust of sponsors and fans that the sport is 'clean'. In fact, a group known as Team Sky was formed with the stated mandate to prove that cycling can be clean, that all is needed is hard work and proper diet, and you can be a champion without the use of drugs. This group had to overcome the stated words of those who rode in the famous Tour de France, that to win, you had to cheat.

Team Sky did in fact have a good run with victories and drug-free results in some of the most gruelling races on the cycling calendar. Then their reputation began to unravel when it was revealed that their number-one cyclist, Sir Bradley Wiggins, seemed to get therapeutic use exemptions to use prohibitive substances just before and during competition. This revelation was followed by the exposure of a mystery package delivered to the cyclist just before another gruelling race.

Numerous high-ranking investigations, both in the British Parliament and local anti-doping bodies, failed to discover what was in the package as important information mysteriously disappeared. Then came a newspapers disclosure that their present top cyclist, Chris Froome, returned an adverse analytical finding in a urine test during another gruelling event. Information is that a urine sample from Froome revealed twice the accepted level of the drug Salbutamol, a drug used by asthmatics to relieve breathing problems. However, the amount of the drug used is strictly monitored and excessive use is sanctioned. The athlete has an opportunity to explain this odd result, and already he has employed some of the world's leading experts to assist in proving that the finding "ah-nuh-nut'n".

 

BRAVE WHISTLE-BLOWERS

 

"Oops!" The go-to phrase when caught. Drug testers have always been two steps behind the athletes who insist on using whatever means to have an edge over their competitors. However, the recent bravery of whistle-blowers, who literally put their lives on the line in exposing cheating at every level of sports - from governments, to administrators, to doctors, trainers, coaches and the athletes themselves, along with the bold decision of saving samples of body fluids for up to 10 years while more sophisticated methods of detection are discovered - has caused those determined to allow drug-free athletes to have a chance of a medal or record when competing against the cheaters.

The exposure of Russia, a nation with a state-sponsored programme of cheating and methods of avoiding detection, will go a long way in levelling the playfield. But the rewards at stake, and the willing assistance of legal and medical luminaries to assist in exonerating those with adverse analytical findings (positives), will ensure that the use of illegal substances and methods will be with us for a lifetime. However, drug testers are now a half-step behind the cheaters instead of the well-known two steps.

Locally, our programme continues with an executive director in control without the confidence of the board that employs him and a proven inability to carry out drug testing without faults and controversies. The decision of track and field icon and superlative person Usain Bolt to retire from competition may yet prove to be the last chance of sports to be able to attract the type of support needed to allow the best of our sportsmen and women to compete on the proverbial level playing field.

Independent agencies that supervise sports, manned by individuals without the 'baggage' of multiple loyalties, may prove to be the answer if non-nationals are allowed to be a part of the testing programme. Sadly, that will not happen in my lifetime. Winning is now much too important to bother with transparency and ethical behaviour. Sigh.