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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Drugs in sport - our apathy reveals the state of the sport

Two days ago, we interrupted our series on running technique to bring you news of a massive steroid bust, named "Raw Deal". Incredibly, this story barely reached South Africa, and certainly didn't make the impact that it should have, given the numbers, and the possible implications of this operation. Of course, it may yet do so, if WADA gets hold of the names of some high-profile athletes who have "benefited" from the 11.4 million doses of steroids that were confiscated!

Other doping news - just "by the way"

This is not the only doping related article to hit the headlines in the past week or two. In other news, Michael Rasmussen, of "You can trust me" fame, returned what is bizarrely called a "non-negative" test at that Tour de France. According to news reports, the Dane, who was kicked off the Tour by his Rabobank team for failing to inform them of his location leading up to the Tour, had traces of a substance called "Dynepo" in his urine. This chemical is similar to EPO, but under current WADA rules, a "positive" test can only be declared if the EPO is obtained chemically. Since Dynepo is made from human cells, WADA feel the risk of a false positive is too great, so they call it "non-negative" instead.

And then in another cycling-related story, the never-ending case of Floyd Landis ('winner' of the 2006 Tour de France) finally came to an end (at least, a chapter did), when an American arbitration panel ruled that he should forefeit the 2006 Tour title. A three man panel voted 2-1 against Landis, following what was an exhaustive court case which centred on numerous errors made by the French lab that tested the samples. The panel decided that these errors were not sufficient to undermine the positive result, and issued a two-year ban which makes Landis the first Tour winner to be stripped of his title. Landis still has other options - he can now approach the Court of Arbitration for sport in Switzerland, and was reported to be weighing his options. His statement after the verdict was announced suggests there may be more to come: "This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere". Those are not words of a man who seems willing to accept a ban. Whatever happens, let's hope it's not another 15 months before we have an answer.

Our apathy - an indication of the times

What is most worrying about these two stories is our lack of reaction to them. "Just another doping story", when in fact it's the first time in 105 years that a Tour winner has been disposed. It doesn't help that it takes them 15 months to deliver a verdict. As for Rasmussen, at the time, his axing was huge news in the world of cycling, but it was soon forgotten and then replaced by allegations over the involvement of the eventual race winner, Alberto Contador, in just another doping scandal. There seems no end to it, but it's sad day when our reaction to such stories is one of apathy.

In our companion post, we look at Operation Raw Deal, which should make us stand up and take notice. We will discuss what this means for sport and drug testing procedures.