Excluded from the Olympics because of a bad burrito? Anti-doping efforts should not be based on blame


It’s been a rough year for doping control officers trying to gain access to athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics disrupted by COVID. Test numbers dropped dramatic due to COVID restrictions, although testing organizations claim to be operating at normal levels now.

A number of suspected doping cases flow into this mix, which result from increasingly sophisticated laboratory analysis methods that detect fewer and fewer prohibited substances.

However, rather than being evidence that an athlete intentionally used a performance enhancing substance to cheat, these results are more likely to be due to contaminated food, supplements, or medication.

Even more worrying is the evidence that German journalist Hajo Seppelt and the ARD documentary team in Doping Top Secret: GUILTYshowing how casual contact can potentially sabotage athletes.

All of this begs the question of whether anti-doping agencies are using one “Ethics of Nursing”who want to support “clean” athletes instead of automatically assuming guilt.

One suggestion that we are advocating is to refer extremely low positive cases likely due to contamination to an independent body. This panel could then determine if an attempted fraud occurred, rather than placing the burden of proof on the athlete to prove his innocence.

“Eating pork can lead to a false positive result”

Last month, Shelby Houlihan, the American record holder on both the 1,500 and 5,000-meter tracks, announced on. known Instagram that the court of arbitration (CAS) upheld a four-year suspension for testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

The court denied their claim that the positive test in December could have been caused by eating a pork burrito hours before giving their urine sample. The findings denied her the chance to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

in the FebruaryKenyan long-distance runner James Kibet was also banned from the Athletics Integrity Unit for four years after testing positive for nandrolone and anabolic steroids. He asserts he had ingested pork fat from a Kenyan farmer who admitted to feeding his animals dietary supplements.

In contrast, the American long jumper Jarrion Lawson was banned for four years for taking the banned anabolic steroid Trenbolone overturned last March when he argued his positive test was likely caused by eating rotten beef in a restaurant.

Similarly, the Badminton World Federation’s Doping Hearing Panel acknowledged that it is very likely that contaminated meat in Thailand was the cause of Ratchanok Intanons positive drug test in 2019.

While it is important to look at the facts in each case for their merits, applying the rules and punishing athletes in these circumstances can seem frustratingly inconsistent.

Read more: Why Shayna Jack will likely successfully defend her doping ban appeal – but still won’t be at the Tokyo Olympics

Burden on athletes to prove their innocence

Although the farming of steroids and hormones is illegal in most countries, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) warning Athletes have been talking about the risk of contaminated meat, particularly from China and Mexico, for more than a decade.

A WADA study 2015 also highlighted the risks of steroids found in pork.

Read more: Doping has become inevitable at the Olympics. And whoever wins gold in Tokyo may not be sure until 2031

At the same time, WADA laboratories discover more and more tiny traces of prohibited substances. What a laboratory can’t tell from a sample is whether a positive result is due to accidental contamination (e.g. from meat) or indicates the end of a sophisticated microdosing scheme designed to cheat the system.

Similar to a police breathalyzer, athletes who return a “positive” test start from a position with no-fault liability. The burden of proof for the origin of the prohibited substance is theirs.

Even if the amount of the substance could not have resulted in a performance advantage, athletes have to save their reputation and their careers with a proverbial “hunt for a needle in a haystack” to determine the origin of the contamination.

This can be a major challenge for athletes. As the case of Australian swimmer Shayna Jack shows, appeals, media hype and social media trolling are taking their toll. Jack warned Anti-doping authorities that “someday someone won’t get through”.

New reforms do not solve all problems

Cases like these raise questions about the effectiveness of current anti-doping policies.

Realize the challenge that current WADA code still leaves the burden of proving innocence to the athlete, but allows the standard four-year ban to be reduced to a reprimand.

WADA has it Reporting threshold used by laboratories to determine a possible violation of the WADA Code. This would presumably reduce the incidence of accidental meat or medication contamination.

Read more: The Russian Olympic doping saga shows the need for a radically different approach

From the beginning of June also WADA requires Laboratories to conduct additional tests for positive tests resulting from a limited number of prohibited substances. It is unclear whether all laboratories have the capacity to carry out these tests, so we are calling for an independent testing agency to provide support.

Former WADA General Director David Howman says these changes don’t go far enough. It supports forensic testing methods such as hair and saliva tests, which are used in anti-doping cases. (These could also provide additional evidence of long-term drug use rather than contamination.)

There are numerous heartbreaking examples of athletes who do not have the financial resources or access to independent legal advice or sound science to prove their innocence. Most are still banned after testing positive, making them vulnerable to media speculation as they fight for their corner.

A new “ethics of care” approach

While the first rule of cheating is deny, deny, deny, most athletes are not scammers. However, they can easily and unintentionally stumble through the rigidity of anti-doping rules.

It is no accident that many of the athletes who have conflicted with the system also come from most of them disadvantaged countries.

Rather than starting from a position of “guilt”, is it time for an athlete-centric approach to the “ethics of care”?

Cases of extremely low levels of banned substances could be referred to an independent third party for investigation rather than financial and inevitable burdens on the athlete.

Read more: Banned from Tokyo Olympics for Pot? Let the athletes decide which drugs should be allowed

International sports federations are already funding gun-length testing programs through institutions like the International Assessment Agency (ITA). If all positive, low-level cases were automatically referred to an independent reviewer, the focus could be on determining if there was real fraud – and not just a violation of rules and arbitrary thresholds.

Would this offer the sports viewer more comfort in the armchair AND restore the athletes’ confidence in the anti-doping system? Quite possible.

Athletes are not the enemy. It is time to recognize the central role of the athlete in the anti-doping system.

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