Editorial

Valuable lesson from a sad episode

Saturday, April 12, 2014    

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We suspect that the recent exoneration of Mrs Veronica Campbell-Brown will have encouraged Mr Asafa Powell and Miss Sherone Simpson in their stated determination to contest their 18-month doping-related suspensions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

We would expect that the issues will be very carefully explored by the athletes, their handlers and lawyers before a final decision is taken.

Another Jamaican, of far less prominence, Olympic discus thrower Ms Allison Randall, was also handed a two-year ban this week for using a prohibited diuretic. We are not, so far, aware of any plans by Ms Randall to appeal.

All three athletes will be taking into consideration the reality that their punishment is backdated to the sample collection date of June last year. For Ms Randall the suspension is set to end in June 2015. Mr Powell and Miss Simpson will be eligible for a return to competition in December this year.

For the rest of us looking on, any appeal to the Court of Arbitration will hopefully allow for further ventilation of this vexed issue of contaminated supplements.

Former training partners Mr Powell and Miss Simpson are said to have tested positive for the illegal stimulant oxilofrine at last year's national trials. They claim the banned substance was ingested unknowingly in the legal supplement Epiphany D1.

As has been said time and again, supplements — a largely unregulated, multibillion-dollar industry — have become a minefield for athletes.

As head of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) Mr Mike Fennell so colourfully phrased it recently: "There are thousands and thousands of supplements... there are supplements for growing hair, losing weight and doing the other things... You can buy a supplement with a certain label and buy another bottle with the same label, but it has other ingredients in it. You can't go by what's on the label."

All of which, as we understand it, provides basis for the decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to make changes to its regime governing the use of supplements come next year.

As explained by medical researcher Dr Rachel Irving, at an Observer forum last year, "If an athlete can prove that a supplement that he or she took contains banned substances that were not listed on the label, he or she would likely just be warned (instead of banned) come January 1, 2015."

The catch is that if the athlete is found guilty, the applicable ban for a first offender will be four years, come next year.

The answer, as anti-doping educators have been saying, is for athletes to, as much as possible, avoid the use of supplements. If such supplements are found to be necessary, there should be exhaustive checks with the help of suitably qualified medical and nutritional experts before ingestion.

There can be no excuse for "elite" athletes — all of whom have experienced support staff — to be turning to unqualified people for advice on nutritional supplements and/or to be ingesting such substances without the most thorough checks.

In that regard — whether or not the extent of the punishment was excessive — the available evidence suggests that the JADCO panel was on track when it adjudged Mr Powell and Miss Simpson to have been "negligent" in the lead-up to their positive tests last year.

This sad episode will hopefully serve as a valuable lesson to all our athletes — famous, established and aspiring.

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