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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Special News Report for September 25, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

WADA makes "mistake" with new approach to doping

Unrestricted use of stimulants allowed next year

By Gerard Knapp

The decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to remove caffeine and pseudoephedrine from the list of banned and restricted substances has been criticized by sports scientists and cycling coaches, who described it as a "mistake" that will encourage the abuse of two well-known and freely-available stimulants.

Is this the future?
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However, come January 1, 2004 - when the "WADA List" effectively replaces what's called the "IOC List" - any athlete will be allowed to use unrestricted quantities of performance enhancing substances that are still either illegal or allowed in limited quantities (see earlier story).

Earlier this week, WADA's Executive Committee approved the 2004 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods. "Changes to the List this year include the removal of caffeine and pseudoephedrine. Some substances, such as modafinil, have been added. The complete list will be published on WADA's website prior to October 1."

The decision stunned Dr Dave Martin, a senior sport physiologist with the Australian Institute of Sport who's worked with many elite cyclists. He told Cyclingnews, "this really lifts the lid off the box, doesn't it"? Dr Martin predicted that from next year athletes will use the stimulants regularly and they "will become a standard part of rider preparation".

Dr Martin said both caffeine and pseudoephedrine can assist athletes during competition. He said a Dutch research paper had proved they enhance performances, something that is well understood by cyclists at all levels.

The sports scientist is concerned with the impact WADA's decision will have on sport at both the elite and amateur levels. His said his charter is to help athletes achieve the best possible results and that "I'm negligent if I don't prepare them in the best possible way and within the rules".

"I'm in a tough situation," he said, clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of testing athletes using combinations of what are still banned performance-enhancing substances.

Dr Martin believed that WADA has become "confused" in its aims and "they haven't really anticipated the affects" of removing the two drugs from the banned substances list.

He said there is a belief that drug testing agencies are becoming bogged down with so-called accidental positives, where an athlete takes a cold or flu preparation (that contains pseudoephedrine) before competition, supposedly to address the symptoms of the condition.

Figures don't support argument

However, it remains unclear if the figures actually support that belief. A representative of the Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA), told Cyclingnews there were "maybe one or two" positive tests for pseudoephedrine in a year, and caffeine was even rarer.

The majority of positive tests are still for steroids, he said. "It (pseudoephedrine) is a stimulant," the spokesman said, but he was also unable to "say why WADA is removing it from the (banned) list".

It has to be said that nearly all people Cyclingnews spoke to believe there are very few real so-called accidental positives for pseudoephedrine, or any other banned substance for that matter.

The coach of the Australian men's under 21 cycling squad, Kevin Tabotta, said of WADA's latest list, "I can't see why they've done it. It would have been better to maintain the drugs at the current levels.

"As a coach of young riders I can say that in spite of whatever a doping body thinks or says, these products are banned because they're performance-enhancing - end of story."

"There's no question that it (pseudoephedrine) helps performance. The bike riders know that. It (the decision) just sends the wrong message to young athletes, but irrespective of what WADA says, I'll tell them 'you're not going to use it'," he said.

[Interestingly, earlier this week there was a report of 13 year old boy testing positive for ephedrine (not pseudoephedrine) at a surprise control in a mountain bike race in Italy. A court in Turin has opened an investigation into the matter.]

Another cycling coach in Australia, John Beasley, said, "ethically, it's all wrong".

"It's taking a step backwards for sure. Things should stay the way they are." He said he "shudders at the thought" of ambitious athletes or over-zealous parents of young athletes legally using the stimulants to enhance athletic performance.

"I would shudder to think of anyone tampering with junior athletes," he said.

It would appear that WADA believes that 'soft' substances such as caffeine and pseudoephedrine do not provide an enhancement to performance. But cyclists and cycling coaches clearly dispute that conclusion.

Indeed, even defence forces are using a combination of caffeine and ephedrine (which is still on the banned list) for fighter pilots and combat troops.

Dr Martin made a military analogy in regard to WADA's latest announcement. "They (WADA) try to pull in the high profile athletes like Susie O'Neill to be the public face, but the people who make the rules aren't necessarily working on the front line. They have no real experience of working with the athletes and preparing them for competition.

"It's like enforcing rules for fighting in the trenches and they've never experienced it. They just don't have the necessary experience of dealing with athletes," who "will always push the boundaries".

UCI still to consider

According to the UCI's Dr Mario Zorzoli, "The UCI's anti doping commission will make a statement on the new list, only after its reception, and only after an in depth analysis," he said in response to Cyclingnews. "It is therefore too soon to express now a comment on any substances included or excluded from the list."

If WADA gets its way - and it appears likely that WADA's president Dick Pound is determined to make these changes - the decision will have a irreversible affect of sport at all levels.

It's understood these latest announcements indicate the naked ambitions of WADA's president, who was overlooked for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee.

But the establishment of WADA provides Pound with the opportunity to wield considerable influence over world sport, as it's expected the "WADA List" will supersede what was previously called the "IOC List". The "List" refers to substances which are banned or restricted from use and deemed to be performance enhancing and/or detrimental to athletes' health.

Many sporting bodies around the world refer to the "IOC List" when forming their anti-doping policy. But from 2004 onwards, this looks likely to be known as the "WADA List".

However, Pound has not got off to a good start in his relations with cycling's ruling body. Last week a draft report on doping controls at the Tour de France was leaked to the French press, and the UCI retaliated by withdrawing recognition of WADA officials.

It appears likely that the positive aspects of WADA's latest statement - such as funding for the development of a test for the detection of human growth hormone, will be pushed aside as sports bodies and coaches debate what appears to be a poorly-researched decision.

Would WADA reverse its decision on the stimulants? "No. They'll never concede defeat and reverse the decision," said one observer. "I think we're stuck with it for the next few years at least."

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)