Here’s what we need to do to really fight drugs in sport
David Evans speaks to the media during the Essendon Bombers press conference to answer questions about supplements given to players as part of their fitness plan in 2012, at AFL House, Melbourne. (Photo: AFL Media)
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At present, anti-doping agencies and campaigners in this country are peddling a substantial amount of hot air.
Several times it was mentioned at the media conference on Thursday where the whistle was blown on systemic and widespread doping in this country, which is if use performance enhancing substances you will be caught.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority says that the new substance of choice among the sporting fraternity – peptides – have been arriving in this country at an exponential rate of late.
In fact, in the past 12 months customs officials have said that the rate of importation has increased by over 250%.
That would indicate that the concerns as to its widespread use are well founded.
But catching those using who are utilising peptides is actually impossible here in Australia.
Currently, there are only two accredited laboratories in the world – Cologne and Montreal – that have the equipment required to test for peptides.
Presumably one, or both, is currently charged with ascertaining the true make-up of the nutritional supplements that are at the centre of the scandal engulfing the Essendon Football Club.
It is often trumpeted that ASADA and the associated anti-doping protocols in Australia are world’s best practice.
Yet, in the case of the principal enhancer of choice at present there is no way to determine on our shores whether or not they are being used in sport.
It begs the question that prior to the revelations that have emerged from Essendon, how many other athlete samples have been sent off-shore to be tested for what is now becoming the drug of choice of those who wish to cheat?
I have no idea what the technology and equipment to isolate performance enhancing peptides costs.
However at present two countries, or laboratories within them, have found the necessary funding to purchase them.
If authorities in Australia are serious about catching doping cheats – and I believe they are – then it would appear paramount that money be found to allow the purchase of the technology required to isolate the peptides that are now, according to ASADA, flooding our market and being used illegally by various sporting codes and individuals.
Because, at present, it appears that athletes can utilise peptides as part of their training and preparatory regime with the knowledge that they cannot return a positive test when asked to provide a sample.
With that being the case, trumpeting the line that ‘if you use illegal substances you will get caught’ is a very hollow one.
The other area where greater attention needs to be paid is the use of blood samples to try and unearth illicit drug use in sport.
Currently, urine samples are by far and away the most frequent method utilised when an athlete is requested to supply a sample for analysis.
It is cheaper, and perhaps carries less ethical problems, than blood extraction.
But cycling, to its credit, has found a way around those problems with blood sampling in that sport far more prevalent than any other.
By its nature, blood carries the trace markers of drug use for vastly longer than urine.
Hence, the utilisation of blood sampling provides a far greater opportunity for unmasking illegal drug use.
While Australia trumpets itself both nationally and internationally as world’s best practice in the area of anti-doping protocols in some areas it falls short of the mark.
There is certainly room for considerable improvement and in the wake of the powerful statements made this week as a result of the ACC investigation the public rightly deserves a more stringent anti-doping system in this country.
Cages were rattled and sabres were drawn on Thursday.
War was declared on all those responsible for tainting the Australian sports system via the use of illegal drugs.
The words were positively and confidently delivered from on high that athletes, in particular, were in the sights of the authorities and there was nowhere to hide.
Unfortunately, for those who long for a more level playing field and a quantum reduction in drug use in sport, the threats that were made on Thursday were more a case of hyperbole than fact.
Until the technology and procedures are in place in this country to accurately test for peptides in an athlete’s system it would appear they are free to use them and guaranteed at present of not falling foul of the anti-doping police.
Beefing up the anti-doping protocols needs two things – will and money.
The first ingredient is definitely there.
The second has to be found and provided from somewhere, either publicly or from the sports themselves if we wish to truly make a dent in the current level of drug use in sport in this country.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.