Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The X's & O's of PED's

This title, "The X's & O's of PED's" is the third of three I thought about and obviously the one I've chosen for this post. The other two were, "Fans Don't Care" and "When the Prize Becomes Too Valuable". I feel you'll see why the latter two were candidates as you read on. PED's of course means "Performance Enhancing Drugs".

Most of you reading this post know why it's my topic today. I'll not go into the details of the specific incident. I'm sure my journalist colleagues will at some point and many have already done so. My focus here is to educate. I'm going to describe first just how easy it is to know if something you've ingested is for something other than nutrition and whether it is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency ( WADA) and I'm going to make you and I active participants in this. Here's what I would like you to do.

1) Go to your medicine cabinet and get any over the counter or prescription drug which lists its active ingredients. I have been prescribed drops for my eyes to reduce the pressure inside the eyes to ward off "glaucoma", which is present in my family.

2) Record them in some fashion or simply have them available. In some cases you'll need a magnifying glass especially if the candles on your birthday cake resemble a five alarm fire. The active ingredient in my eye drops is "brinzolamide" and I did use my reading glasses.

3) Go to the web site www.globaldro.org (global drug reference online).

4) Identify yourself by country and sport (i.e. Canada & curling).

5) Compare the active ingredients for your medication/supplement/drug with the approved list on the web site.

6) Put your hand up if you're taking a banned substance. If your hand is up go to the next step. If your hand is not up, carry on and good curling! In my case, both as athlete and coach, "brinzolamide" is not prohibited "in" or "out of" competition. It took me about one minute to learn that!!!

7) If your medication was purchased by you "over the counter", stop taking it. On the other hand, if it has been prescribed for you by a certified physician and you want to compete on the international level, make an appointment with your physician a.s.a.p. to let him/her know of your dilemma. If there are alternate substances that you can take that are approved, make the switch. If not go to the next step.

8) Contact your national sport governing body to obtain a "Therapeutic Exemption Form" (TUE). Complete the form according to the instructions provided. Make copies and keep one in a very safe place (i.e. safety deposit box).

If your country is not listed on the www.globaldro.org site then go directly to WADA's site (www.wada-ama.org) for similar information or the World Curling Federation web site (www.worldcurling.org).

When an athlete is tested, it is done so by urine and/or blood analysis and can be on site ("in" competition) or randomly ("out of" competition). The test is administered by a WADA certified tester with an official representing the athlete in attendance. A sample is provided by the athlete in full view of the tester and the athlete's representative. If the testing is done immediately following the event, a WADA official stays in full view of the athlete until a sample can be provided. The sample is then divided into to "A" & "B" containers with the athlete participating in the sealing of them. The samples are then coded for identification with the athlete receiving copies of the paperwork. The samples are then tested for banned substances pertaining to the sport in question either on site (if the lab facilities are available) or sent to an accredited lab. The results are provided to the athlete as soon as possible and of course, everyone hopes for a negative result, no banned substances detected. If a positive test result is indicated, the "B" sample is then tested (with the athlete and his/her representative notified beforehand and invited to the unsealing and testing). If the result of that testing is also positive, the athlete's sport governing body is notified for further action.

You'll notice that the steps to determine whether the substance you're ingesting is banned for your sport and country or not is quite simple and self directed. For anyone who is serious enough about competing at the highest level to say they did not know that what they were ingesting was banned is just plain imprudent and if the athlete is competing in a team sport, I'll add self-serving, as a positive test affects the entire team in some instances. Good luck getting caught ingesting a banned substance which causes the team to return medals finding another team in the future!

For our sport in Canada, we also have an individual who is our resident expert on the doping regulations. There is absolutely no reason for a curling athlete in Canada to mistakenly ingest a banned substance!

I'm writing this post in the midst of the Tour de France, the sport most associated with PED's. One must have been living under a rock to not be aware of the trials and tribulations of one Lance Armstrong and his association with allegations of the use of PED's during his competitive cycling days especially in connection with the aforementioned Tour de France.

Each sport, like a society, has a culture which in essence defines what's acceptable and what's not. In your copy of "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" you'll find an article entitled "The Culture of Sport" and how it changes from one sport to another and how athletes playing one sport act and react very differently the moment they change from sport to sport. Why, because the "rules of engagement" change. One of the more disgusting axioms, especially in professional sports is, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying!" and it's accepted in many, perhaps most sports because that's the culture.

I recently witnessed a baseball game where, on a double play attempt by the defensive team, the second baseman missed stepping on the base before throwing on to first base to complete the double play. The play ended the inning. The camera focused on the second baseman who video replay showed missed contacting the base by the proverbial country mile, knew he had, and laughed about it with his teammates on their return to the dug out. Can you imagine what would have happened had the same second baseman gone to the umpire to indicate that he had indeed missed stepping on the base? His teammates and coaches would have reacted with righteous indignation toward him. You see, it's the culture of baseball to accept a call even if you know the official has clearly made a mistake and would be quite willing to rectify the call. But, that same second baseman as a professional golfer, had he inadvertently grounded his club in an hazard with no one watching, would have so indicated and gracefully accepted the penalty. Or if that person was a curler and touched a running stone and so indicated even though no one might have been aware. Same person, different cultures!

In some sports, PED's are accepted by participants and fans because, here it comes, "everyone does it"! What  a cop out! What's more disturbing is the attitude of the fans. In simple language, most, the vast majority in my experience, just don't care. They want to see baseballs leave the yard, cyclists with unbelievable speed & stamina, football players with superhuman endurance ... I hate to say it, those fans don't give a rodent's backside if the athletes they're watching and the entertainment they're enjoying are "juiced". And if the fans don't care, why should the athletes? Well, thankfully, there are athletes who feel playing "clean" is a positive attribute and keep the flame of clean play burning while around them the temptations to artificially enhance his/her performance are readily available.

In my mind, the classic example occurred during the summer of 1998 when Mark McGuire (St. Louis Cardinals) & Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs) duelled for the major league home run record with full stadia of fans cheering enthusiastically for every ball that cleared the outfield fences from their bats. Even at that stage there was clear indications that something was amiss. All one had to do was look at Mssrs. McGuire & Sosa to know that their physique was altered. No amount of time in the gym could have produced the bodies they brought to the stadium each day. One of the most distinguished sports periodicals named both players "Sportsman of the Year", an honour coveted by athletes which only re-enforced the heroic efforts of the athletes. Many felt their season long home run contest saved major league baseball from a rather tumultuous period of labour unrest in the preceding few seasons. But, at what price was major league baseball saved? Did major league baseball sell its soul to the devil?

In an attempt to deal with the issue or at least to project to the world that major league baseball cared, it hired George Mitchell, a former U.S. senator to study the matter with the results naming players in his report known as, duh, "The Mitchell Report". Congress even got involved with some players testifying before committees, with some caught lying (can you say "perjury"?). Needless to say, baseball was in a mess. Roger Clemens, while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays was accused of taking PED's as was his Yankee friend, pitcher Andy Pettitte. Mr. Pettitte admitted to taking the substance, in his words, to recover more quickly from an injury, not to enhance performance. Hmm, does that pass the "smell test"? Clearly most believe it does but in Mr. Clemens' case, not so much as the allegations in his case were clearly to prolong a career artificially.

Fast forward to today. Players in the "steroid era" of major league baseball have been shunned by those who vote for inclusion into "The Baseball Hall of Fame" in Cooperstown, NY. Not one player, many of whom "have the numbers", have been voted into the hall. But will the passage of time numb some of those voters or future voters into granting admission down the road? Only time will tell.

Canada was plunged headlong into the world of PED's in the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea when the nation went from euphoria to dismay when Ben Johnson tested positive for a PED. That led to, at the time, the most comprehensive study of the new world of PED's in any nation by the Dubin Inquiry. The report by Justice Dubin had enough blame to go around to athletes, coaches, sport governing bodies etc. It was hoped that other nations would use the report and follow Canada's lead to meet the PED issue head on. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and we're left where we are today!

To me, one of the most disturbing elements of this whole PED matter are athletes, who when asked about taking PED's say that even if they were proven to shorten one's life span or leave one in a diminished state of health in later years, if it could get them onto an Olympic podium or pave the way to a professional career in their sport, it would be worth the risk. Has the prize become to valuable?

The really scary part in all of this is for parents whose teenage sons & daughters feel that for a variety of reasons, taking PED's is a necessary part of achievement and/or status. Common feeling among those whose expertise is in the area of PED's and their long term implications is that they are generically dangerous. Until the "steroid era" athletes reach those birth milestones when those long term implications are make known, it's only conjecture. Is the risk worth the reward? Well, clearly some say it is!

Those who turn a blind eye to PED's and their detection often point to the fact that like "prohibition" if someone wants to artificially enhance his/her performance and take both the physical and social risks, there are those who will do so and the "PED Police" will always be a step or two behind in the detection game. Until the culture changes, I'm afraid PED's may rule the day. I hope I'm wrong!

I've used the word "artificial" and a few of its derivatives in this post. When confronted by the question re. PED's and my feelings toward them the answer is simple. It's a short cut to the time and effort spent by one's peers in training. It's artificial! In my books, if you take PED's, you're cheating! Where do you stand? I invite your comments!


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