May 18, 2005

Ethics Blog and Doping News

I found an interesting new blog this week. Bioethics and Sport is a discussion about sport and performance enhancement, and it explores a lot of the grey areas in our current and future attempts to eliminate cheating. I've put a link in the sidebar, too.

Speaking of cheating, and grey areas: about a month ago I noted a well-written article about nutritional supplements and doping. Here's another from the Salt Lake Tribune, with an emphasis on supplement use in NCAA sports. On a related note, US swimmer Kicker Vencill won his lawsuit against Ultimate Nutrition. Vencill sued the vitamin manufacturer for selling him a multivitamin contaminated with steroid precursors, which caused him to fail a drug test. The positive test resulted in a two-year suspension from swimming. The jury awarded Vencill more than $500,000 US in damages.

As Greg over at Sports Law Blog notes, this result could have a positive side effect since it might give the supplement manufacturers some incentive to clean up their act. It will not likely have any impact on doping suspensions; in general, the anti-doping authorities don't care how banned substances are ingested, and athletes are hald accountable for everything that they put into their bodies. That still holds even if you didn't know what you were being exposed to.

Speaking of being held accountable, British sprinter and gold medallist Mark Lewis-Francis tested positive for cannabis last week. He quickly invoked the "Ross Rebagliati" defense, claiming that he must have inhaled some second-hand smoke. Like Rebagliati, Lewis-Francis escaped suspension, but not because of the ridiculous story. UK Athletics noted that cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug for a sprinter, and was satisfied with a public warning to the athlete.

The Wade Exum case in the U.S., which I have not written about before, took a new turn last month as attorneys representing Dr. Exum subpoenaed additional doping records. Dr. Exum served as the USOC's director of drug control administration until 2000, and has since filed a lawsuit against his former employers. Among his numerous allegations, Exum asserts that the USOC systematically suppressed positive tests from its top athletes.

And of course we couldn't have a doping news update without Dick Pound getting himself in the news again. Pound, the president of WADA, took a couple of shots at FIFA, saying that they had better comply with WADA anti-doping policies, or else. FIFA president Sepp Blatter — not known for hiding from the media, either — responded the way you would expect Sepp Blatter to respond.

In a less confrontational moment, Pound announced that WADA would do more out-of-competition drug tests in 2005 than they did in 2004.

You might notice, if you read the story, that the new, increased number of tests (3000+) is still a lot less than the 2003 total. WADA has generally taken a very strict law-and-order approach to anti-doping, so the decision to cut back so drastically on the number of tests is a little bit puzzling. By putting more money into research and less into testing, WADA might be acknowledging that the science of testing is lagging too far behind the science of cheating. It would be interesting to know the "efficiency" rates over the time that WADA has been performing out-of-competition tests.

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