Anti-Doping Pressure Rising?

Story written by Eric.

UK Sport is putting together a new task force which it hopes will hit the anti-doping initiatives it has squarely on the head, drive out cheats, shore up the sport's fragile image with the public and prove to be a good opportunity for athletes, trainers and medical professionals in contact with each other to report suspected anti-doping violations according to a report in The Guardian.

John Scott, head of the United Kingdom's anti-doping authority, said that UK Sport currently attempting to develop start-up national anti-doping organisation independent of UK Sport that will place a much larger emphasis on intelligence gathering and investigation than current anti-doping measures in place.

"What we want to do is demonstrate through rigorous pre-games testing that we are doing everything that we can to prevent anyone who is cheating going to the Games," Scott stateed. "Whether it will be 100% successful we don't know but we are sending out very strong messages to discourage people."

The apparent message which will be sent out to athletes is one which sounds like it comes straight from a British spy novel.

The new agency, which will be functional before the Beijing Games begin, has a goal of having athletes keep an eye out on other athletes on the track and in the locker rooms; trainers keep a look out for irregularities in their groups which could signal one of their members breaking an anti-doping rule; and for medical staff - including trainers, doctors and anyone else who treats athletes to break out a state of what it is considering complacency and speak up when suspected drug abuse has occured.

"Tests will be planned using our intelligence-based testing approach which focuses the allocation of tests around where they have a maximum impact in terms of detection and deterrence," said Scott on the UK Sports home page (link).

"Whilst the overall aim is to test everyone at least once, obviously those in more high-risk sports or disciplines can and will be tested more often. Essentially there is no limit to the number of times we might test any individual athlete."

It all sounds good on paper to a certain degree, though there are some inherent risks involved as well as a margin of payback which must be factored in to the equation as well.

A track and field agent approached me two years ago regarding a prominent athletics group in the United States which had been notorious for what he considered breaking anti-doping rules.

Had the UK Sport inititiative been in place then, perhaps a few of the group members would have been caught earlier - and even more of them rounded up and suspended than the nearly dozen or so who ultimately were.

However, had this particular person had a bone to pick with the particular trainer or any of the athletes for whatever reason, he could have used this against the group and began submitting anonymous claims to the relevant agency to have the group investigated.

UK Sport will need to have a procedure in place which will weed out false claims and be able to truly understand which ones are of true significance. It will also need to be able to handle non-analytical positives whereby one athlete may make a claim that another athlete has spoken about illegal drug use or methods, has employed them and/or has requested the same of the athlete.

UK Sport is hoping that this initiative will gain thorough support from the groups it intends to market the idea to, and that the sport's image will clean up as internal accountability between the atheltes, trainers and medics becomes better. Their aim is to have a clean team compete in Beijing, and they hope that all finalists will have had deposited either a urine or blood sample prior to the Games.

Dwain Chambers' name naturally surfaces when discussion about catching cheats in sport - specifically in the United Kingdom - arises.

Chambers was part of the BALCO scandal which netted his main rival, Tim Montgomery, a ban from the sport and a stripped world record-title and time and netted Chambers a lifetime Olympics ban from his governing body.

Chambers travelled to the United States to train with Ukrainian Remi Korchemny, and became part of BALCO's illegal drug organisation.

UK Sport has been consistently and more openly in pursuit of information Chambers may have which can connect dots between other athletes and BALCO; other athletes and unknown suppliers; trainers and suppliers; and potentially medical staff with whom Chambers may have been in contact whilst under the doping regime. The belief is that Chambers has more information to provide the anti-doping pursuers than that which he has been fortcoming.

Victor Conte, BALCO's founder, has on occasion - and in no uncertain terms - stated that he would not ever reveal the identities of athletes who were caught up in the BALCO debacle but who had not been publicly brought to light. Chambers, who may have information on one or more of those athletes - or their trainers - from his time in California, would be a good asset to tap into, say UK Sport.

Conte and Chambers have both been willing to help out the cause of cleaning up sport, but Chambers' request appears to have too steep a price for UK Sport, namely re-instatement into the Olympic opportunity should he have the opportunity to qualify.

Will the new initiative find favour with other athletes who, unlike Chambers, have not been caught in a net of deceit, but have perhaps chased athletes who have been suspected of doping?

I don't believe the programme will have the stirring success it is attempting to achieve at the on-set, but it does have potential to be of terrific benefit in the longer run in the lead-up to London 2012.

The Beijing Games are only four months away, and, according to Conte, most world-class athletes who are doping (whether or not that is a large percentage of the athletes, themselves, or a smaller one is up to debate) finish their strength cycles in March. Any athletes who should test positive in the next few months would have done so by slipping up and using past the expiration date, so-to-speak.

On that front, there is a small hope that some cheats may get caught if they are left out to compete without any preparation on how to mask their drugs.

However, this is an apparently small percentage of athletes, and the fight to catch them will be more costly than the reward - though preventing any Olympian from shaming their nation before millions of people may be a just cause to make such pursuits.

Given time, more means and better opportunity to reach the inner circles in which athletes travel, the UK Sports initiative can have a greater effect of persuading athlete "A" to discuss with authorities the illegal events he (or she)
knows that athlete "B" is employing to gain an advantage over their competitors.

Two of last year's surprise doping tests on Bulgarians Venelina Veneva and Vanya Stambolova netted positive results following what is believed to be a tip by an athlete or their trainer on their out-of-competition whereabouts.

Veneva had long been suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs, but had never had an analytical positive result, hence leaving her performances simply up to speculation in the absence of proof.

There are other anti-doping measures out here in the EU which attempt to help athletes who compete clean to turn in those who they suspect are dirty. WADA has an initiative which permits athletes to leave anonymous tips, as well as does the IAAF - the governing body of track and field in the world.

Due to the lack of reporting on how athletes are caught, it is impossible to make a guesstimate on how successful the programmes are, however.

UK Sport's goal is to promote the highest standards of sporting conduct whilst continuing to lead a world-class anti-doping programme for the UK and being responsible for improving the education and promotion of ethically fair and drug-free sport, according to its website.

Ceplak Banned Two Years

Jolanda Ceplak, the world indoor 800m record-holder who tested positive for EPO at a meet in July 2007, has had a two-year ban upheld by her athletics federation, AZS, reports stated on Thursday.

Ceplak, who is 30, has likely lost an opportunity to ever compete for a gold medal in any future Olympic Games, as she will be 34 when the Games head to London four years from now.

Older age has not always prohibited athletes from achieving amazing results, but it has been a hindrance more than athletes have been able to defy it.

Ceplak set her current world indoor standard of 1.55,82 six years ago in Wien, and set her outdoor best - 1.55,19 - later that outdoor season at Heusden-Zolder.

Ceplak finished 2007 with a 1.59,86 run at Lignano Sabbiadoro.

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