Here’s what we need to do to really fight drugs in sport

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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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.

    But how?

    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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • February 9th 2013 @ 6:47am
      Matt said | February 9th 2013 @ 6:47am | ! Report

      If Manly did do drugs, they’ll sweep it under the rug. Imagine that, basically every premiership in recent history tarnished!

    • February 9th 2013 @ 7:16am
      Doug said | February 9th 2013 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      It is hard to detect someone who sets out to cheat because they know what they are doing is wrong and hide it. But in the case of teams and players trying to get an edge they may start out within the rules and end up being cheats or behaving in an immoral fashion. I’m thinking of Essendon FC here though it may well turn out they have done nothing wrong.

      I think that AFL can learn something from motorsport. In Formula 1 racing the teams are pushing the boundaries of cars designs to the limit of what is within the rules. To combat problem of different people reading the rules differently they have a technical committee that reviews contentious designs. This is done in secret from all the other teams, so if a team has found a loop hole in the rules they get to enjoy the benefit of it. On the other hand if the new design is found to not be within the rules all the teams are notified thus clarifying the rules.

      Where I think this can be of benefit is in the area of the team sports scientists. At Essendon FC the sports scientists and club doctors apparently were trying to stay within the rules. But from an external perspective they had lost the plot: giving players substances not approved for human use; and sourcing medicines from drug dealers. If they had been required to get approval for their new program from an AFL sport science (F1 style) technical committee it would been rejected. And the other teams would have been clearly told dont try this at your clubs either.

      • February 9th 2013 @ 12:17pm
        Anon said | February 9th 2013 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

        This is happening now – the AFL previously told clubs what they couldn’t use – – now clubs will be required to get approval to use what they DO use.

        Remember – the AFL had established their integrity department back in 2008 – so, unlike other codes who are behind the 8 ball here – the AFL has an infrastructure in place that is getting additional powers/funding.

        However – as we know, ASADA testing is now pretty well a waste of time and money – so, it really comes down to information sharing and there are still legislative hurdles there that no amount of will/funding by the AFL,NRL whomever will overcome. The Govt it appears is now awake to the issue and it’s actually incumbant upon them to step up here just as much if not more than the administration of a national footy league.

    • February 9th 2013 @ 7:47am
      chris said | February 9th 2013 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Till they have evidence and can place chargers they shouldn’t say anything. All they are doing is ruining it for everyone else and placing a blanket of guilt over everyone.(innocent till proven guilty)Once found guilty use the full force of the law on the them.

    • Roar Guru

      February 9th 2013 @ 10:00am
      sheek said | February 9th 2013 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Hi Glenn,

      Former swimming coach Don Talbot changed his hardline view on drugs & now supports everyone being juiced.

      Former Trinidad Olympic sprinter & now Australian citizen Mike Agostini shares the same view.

      Renowned Australian sports professor Tony Miller controversially advocated leagising of drugs many years ago, citing it was almost impossible to prevent athletes from doing so.

      People will drink alcohol no matter how much you attempt to legailse against it. The failure of prohibition proved this. People will smoke no matter how much you attempt to legally inhibit the process. The Australian Federal govt will eventually learn this to their cost.

      People will gamble their last dollar before buying essentials for the family. People will find a way to buy illicit drugs no matter how severe you make the penalties.

      I don’t know the answers, or the solutions, to taking drugs in sport, except that the solutions won’t come easily. Money, the bible says, is the root of all evil. Maybe we need to find something else that is intrinsically valuable, instead of the pursuit of money.

      Because at the end of the day, it’s the craving for money, or more money, that drives people to seek an advantage over others, legal or otherwise. In sport & in life.

      The great Indian statesman Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “there is enough resources in the world for everyone’s need, never enough enough for everyone’s greed.”

      And that’s where we’re at……….

      • February 9th 2013 @ 10:21am
        Bob Anderson said | February 9th 2013 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        Prohibition of alcohol was not necessarily a failure despite what we are told. Alcoholism did decrease during those years. One of the key problems though was that it was introduced overnight to change a deeply engrained social custom that had been an accepted part of mainstream western culture for thousands of years. Very different from something that has long been against the rules and against the law, as well as being a form of cheating.

        • February 9th 2013 @ 1:41pm
          Arthur fonzarelli. said | February 9th 2013 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

          There is a key flaw in this argument . Alcohol and other recreational drugs taken by private individuals are possibly nobody’s business but the person and maybe their friends and families .

          Performance enhancing drugs are a form of gaining an unfair advantage over competitors . If we say “it’s all too hard ” we may as well just have anarchy . The fact is that those who cheated the system did so knowingly . Ignorance cannot be a defense .

          Severe draconian penalties for those caught plus introducing much more stringent testing regimes are the only way to fix this problem and restore public confidence , and to restore Australia’s international reputation . Otherwise Australian pro sports will join east Germany and Chinese swimmers and lance Armstrong on the international hall of shame .

          To those who are saying where’s the evidence ? Nobody is guilty yet ? Just be patient .

    • February 9th 2013 @ 1:19pm
      Seano said | February 9th 2013 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

      Who pays for all this testing ect? Who pays for asada? If its tax payers money it’s a waste, I love sport but its just sport if people cheat it’s not as important as hospitals and schools, we should be cutting funding not giving more.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [].

      • February 9th 2013 @ 1:45pm
        Arthur fonzarelli. said | February 9th 2013 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        Maybe some of these mega buck tv rights deals could pay for the testing . Maybe pro sports could levee 2% of every players income to pay for it . The money is there is just a matter of priorities .

        Agree it shouldn’t be the tax payer footing the bill.

        • February 10th 2013 @ 10:31am
          Anon said | February 10th 2013 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          It does – i.e. Govt funds some testing, but in the case of the AFL they are funding a heap of testing and their integrity unit and committing more funds to it.

          Preserntly it seems that funding of illicit drug testing is money better spent than on ASADA testing.

    • Roar Guru

      February 9th 2013 @ 1:37pm
      sheek said | February 9th 2013 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

      I know very little about sports scientist Steve Dank, but already the court of public opinion appearsto have found him guilty.

      It seems he is guilty because in these circumstances, somebody has to be blamed. How deep his involvement is in dispensing illicit drugs, nobody has as yet been able to prove beyond doubt.

      Yet he is a condemned man, a dead man walking.

      Sad isn’t it. I call this the ‘Salem Syndrome.’

      I thought I was being original but I see somebody has written a novel by the same name, portraying the same theme. The Salem Syndrome refers to the witch trials of 1692 in American pioneer town of Salem Massachusetts, whereby pubescent teenage girls exhibiting odd behaviour were proclaimed to be possessed by the devil, by the superstitious idiots of the day.

      Asked to explain these odd mood swings, the girls accused anyone against whom they held a grudge. The stupid townsfolk believed them. About 20 innocent people were hanged before the penny dropped they were being duped.

      Now we have the ACC & ASADA telling us cheating & crime is rampant in Australian sport, but little or no evidence. Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t , but let’s see some substance to the rhetoric.

      With little solid evidence to go on, the media & public opinion are setting up their own kangaroo court, & dispensing “justice” against anyone who looks even remotely “guilty.”

      Yep, the Salem Syndrome is in full swing folks……….

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