Dalton Myers | Two different anti-doping worlds
You often hear of failed drugs tests or athletes returning adverse analytical findings after analysis of collected urine or blood samples. Recently, we followed closely the case of our own Nesta Carter. Most Jamaicans will say they believed him; maybe because he's Jamaican, or, because a positive result meant that the greatest of them all - Usain Bolt - would lose a medal. There are those who also question the legitimacy of the testing, done some eight years after the sample was first collected.
Carter challenged the International Olympic Committee Disciplinary Panel's ruling and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The ban was upheld, that was the end. In that and most cases, the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) strict liability clause is maintained. However, we have just heard of a case that forces us to question the legitimacy of the WADA testing and analysis procedures. It's the case of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Team Sky.
Cyclist Froome returned an adverse analytical finding for the drug Salbutamol (marketed as Ventolin). The drug, which is used for asthma treatment, is allowed under the WADA code in concentrations of no more than 800 micrograms per 12 hours or 1,600 micrograms in divided dosages over 24 hours. Interestingly, Froome had exceeded the maximum/upper limit of 1,000ng/ml that has been set by WADA (his urine returned a level approximately 43 per cent above the upper threshold).
Froome's test results were not surprising as cycling has been dogged by doping allegations, whistle-blower testimonies, and corruption. Most persons thought it was now simply a matter of determining the length of his ban. However, the International Cycling Union (UCI) decided that they were following WADA's lead to clear Froome and consider this a false positive. This is shocking and erodes the trust and confidence in WADA and its code. To make matters worse, WADA has not issued any formal explanation for its decision.
It might seem technical, but remember that the WADA process is about collecting a sample (urine or blood), testing that sample, finding a substance, prosecuting, then casting judgement and sentencing. The burden of proof is on athletes as part of the strict liability clause, meaning it is assumed you took the substance, so the only questions at the disciplinary hearing are "why" and "how". Instead, Froome questioned WADA's own upper limit, essentially asking WADA to provide proof that his going over the limit was an act of doping or whether it could be other reasons, like taking the dosage just before testing, that may have caused his elevated levels. He also questioned whether or not the threshold set by WADA was legitimate and whether it shouldn't be higher depending on situations. WADA, therefore, in clearing Froome, could not defend its own law and, in my opinion, has eroded the basic foundation of its policy.
This case is important because:
- It brings into question transparency and good governance.
- It forces athletes to question WADA's legitimacy.
- It shows that scientific evidence only works for some and not for others.
There are athletes in many sporting disciplines who could now question upper limits and claim false positives, if they can afford the Froome-type legal team. If the threshold of 1000 is low then what happens to athletes who have been banned due to the original WADA limits that are now in question?
In my opinion, there have been too many questions surrounding anti-doping measures in sports. The same rules do not universally apply. Other cyclists in similar situations, like Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi ,had to do controlled tests. They failed and were banned. However, this was never required of Froome.
The UCI and WADA have basically said to us that we must now just move on and enjoy the sport even though there is little explanation as to why Froome has been cleared. The entire process relies on testing and the ability to enforce the sanctions. In this case, as we have seen with the Russian doping scandal, there seem to be two different anti-doping worlds.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org