PtG Article 28.10.2013

Loopholes still exist, doping expert says

“You can deliver the best test on earth, and the system will turn it into complete nonsense in three years,” a German doping expert told the Play the Game conference this evening.

Professor Perikles Simon of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz added that human factors had a major bearing on the ineffectiveness of drug testing programs.

Data was now available that correlated the average times of the world’s top twenty 5000 metre runners with the introduction of new EPO tests, he said, which appeared to show that new tests temporarily reduced doping usage.

The average times achieved by the athletes fell markedly when new tests were introduced, he pointed out, but ultimately rose again.

Recent data also showed that in-competition testing is much more efficient than out-of-competition testing, Simon added. While nothing could be proven, he said, such data could imply that national sports agencies were not as enthusiastic about pursuing home-grown dopers as their international counterparts.

Simon, an expert in gene doping and an adviser to the German parliament, pointed out that athletes seeking to gain an unfair advantage could still utilize a number of loopholes.

Insulin and glucose injections, blood transfusions, designer steroids, testosterone, and gene doping were all undetectable in standard doping test procedures, he said. While the science behind drug testing was “robust and reliable” he said, the problem appeared to be applying it to testing practice.

“Human-political factors” combined with the way that money is distributed within the testing system meant that some tests were potentially a waste of valuable resources, he said. With limited funds available, he said, the anti-doping community should question whether it is spending too much money on older tests and not enough on new procedures. The current drug testing model is an “inefficient system that needs to be repaired,” he added.

Clean athletes ‘need to know that tests work”

Giving an athlete’s perspective, Walter Palmer, a former professional basketball player and currently Head of Department at the global platform for athlete associations UNI Sport PRO, told Play the Game 2013 delegates that clean athletes “really want a system that works”.

However, he added that they need to know that the sacrifices they make in agreeing to testing programs – including home testing and liability for everything they ingest – are worthwhile.

“You really want to know that the people you are competing against are clean,” he said. Palmer added that his members are also keen to know how many cheats are escaping detection.

The fact that Lance Armstrong was allowed to use illegal drugs for so long demonstrated to athletes how ineffective the testing process could be, he said.

Of concern was the fact that statistics released by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) related to all positive drug tests, he pointed out, not just those tests that resulted in doping cheats being uncovered.

Violations for cannabis use were included in WADA figures, he said, as well as therapeutic use exemptions.

He believed that the number of genuine drug cheats uncovered by tests could be as low as 0.07 percent of those tested, he said, not between one and two percent as the WADA data might imply.

"For athletes, that’s the number that matters," he said. Palmer added that he was unconvinced that new revisions to the WADA code would reduce doping.

“Does compliance with the WADA code reduce prevalence of cheating? We cannot know as there are some serious problems with the approach,” he concluded.