September 22, 2006

Marion Jones and WADA Code Article 6.4

This week I am taking a look at three recent high-profile doping cases in the United States. In each instance I'll frame the athlete's case in terms of the WADA Code (PDF) and associated anti-doping rules. Each of the cases provides a slightly different perspective on anti-doping rules in sport.

This is part 3 of the three-part series, concerning the case of sprinter Marion Jones. In Part 1 I discussed the case of sprinter Justin Gatlin, and in Part 2 I discussed the case of cyclist Floyd Landis.

Marion Jones is a five-time Olympic medallist and three-time World Champion in athletics. She has been dogged by doping allegations for years, but had never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs until June of this year.

At the 2006 USA Track and Field Championships, Jones provided a urine sample that tested positive for EPO. A test of her B sample this month produced a negative result.

By now everybody knows that Marion Jones has been "cleared" of any doping violation as a result of her non-negative B sample. But what exactly is a B Sample, and what does the non-negative result really mean?

I have written briefly about B Samples once before, in the context of the Bernard Lagat lawsuit, but I wanted to expand a bit on the topic. Some of the consequences of a non-negative B sample are addressed peripherally in Article 7 of the WADA Code (Results Management), but the meat of the subject is covered in those International Standards we learned about in part 2. Article 6.4 of the WADA Code, "Standards for Sample Analysis and Reporting," states that:

Laboratories shall analyze Doping Control Samples and report results in conformity with the International Standard for laboratory analysis.

Let's talk about analysis of samples and reporting of results, then.

The B Sample Defined: The International Standard for Testing

The WADA Code International Standard for Testing (PDF) describes in detail how anti-doping tests are managed and performed, including the creation of the so-called A and B samples.

When an athlete produces a urine sample under the direction of a doping control officer, it is divided into two parts; one labelled as the A sample, and one marked as the B sample. The bottles are sealed separately, and then pass into the custody of the anti-doping organization.

I should emphasize that the B Sample is not really a separate sample of an athlete's urine; the A and B samples together make up a single bodily specimen, collected from an athlete at a single instant of time.

The Meaning of the B Sample: The International Standard for Laboratories

Most drug screening tests are performed on multiple aliquots, or portions, of the A sample. The International Standard for Laboratories (PDF), paragraph, states:

Presumptive identification from a Screening Procedure of a Prohibited Substance … must be confirmed using a second Aliquot(s) taken from the original “A” Sample.

So if the routine calls for testing the A Sample more than once, and the B Sample is just more of the same urine, what's the point? Why split the urine sample at all?

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the B Sample is collected and stored in a separate, sealed container. This offers at least some degree of protection against inadvertent or intentional contamination of the athlete's urine sample.

The second reason relates to an interesting rule that I didn't know about before, namely paragraph of the International Standard for Laboratories:

The “B” Sample confirmation must be performed in the same Laboratory as the “A” Sample confirmation. A different analyst must perform the “B” analytical procedure. The same individual(s) that performed the “A” analysis may perform instrumental set up and performance checks and verify results.

So the B Sample is the same urine as the A Sample, collected at the same time, and stored and tested at the same lab; but it is stored in a different container, and tested by a different analyst, at a different time.

Still, this doesn't amount to a great deal of sample independence, and as you might expect it is pretty rare that a B Sample result fails to confirm the A Sample result (more on that later).

However, on those rare occasions, the Standards are quite clear about the result:

The B Sample result must confirm the A Sample identification for the Adverse Analytical Finding to be valid. … If the “B” Sample confirmation does not provide analytical findings that confirm the “A” Sample result, the Sample shall be considered negative and the Testing Authority notified of the new analytical finding.

Without a positive B sample, there is no positive test. This includes, by precedent, the case where the B sample cannot be tested — most famously during Tyler Hamilton's positive at the 2004 Olympics. If I can backtrack for a moment, this has important implications for Floyd Landis. As I noted in Part 2, there seems to be a possibility that the confirming B sample in his case cannot be conclusively identified as the one that he provided at the Tour de France. If that is the case, the B sample positive will probably be annulled, and Landis will be exonerated.

Getting back to Jones, the negative B sample has raised a few questions. Dick Pound says that WADA wants to look into what happened, but it's well-known that the urinary EPO test is, shall we say, imperfect. WADA has a defense of the test on its web site, but Pound's initial reaction to Jones' negative B sample says it all, I think:

It's a question of interpretation and the benefit of any doubt goes to the athlete.

Public Disclosure: WADA Code Article 14.2

Several news stories have reported that there has been only one previous instance of an EPO positive being overturned on B sample analysis, that being the Bernard Lagat case I referred to above. That might be true, but I doubt it. The fact is that many A sample positives are not publicly disclosed. In Jones' case, the initial reports were leaked to the press by unnamed USADA officials. That may have been a violation of the WADA Code, although I can't tell for sure. Article 14.2 of the Code, "Public Disclosure," states that anti-doping organizations may make public disclosure of adverse analytical findings "no earlier than completion of an administrative review of [the A sample positive]." The anti-doping organization is not required to make public disclosure of positives until 20 days after an anti-doping rule violation has been determined, which in turn requires either a B sample positive or a waiver of B sample testing.

I don't like the first part of this rule much. I agree that there is a lot of value in public disclosure as a deterrent; indeed, I think that the threat of public shame is a more powerful deterrent than the threat of suspension from competition. But public disclosure before an anti-doping rule violation has been confirmed by due process is not fair, in my opinion. People have been so suspicious of Marion Jones for so long that they're not going to feel a lot of sympathy for whatever she's got left of her reputation. But the rules state quite clearly that there are no positive tests without B sample confirmation. So why are some positive tests disclosed before B sample confirmation?

1 comment:

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Players in every discipline should be in the best way physically and naturally to participate. I hate those people that they need to take drugs to win.