February 6, 2012
During the 2010 Tour de France, eventual winner Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol, an asthma drug that also helps increase metabolic rate and lean muscle. He claimed he unknowingly ingested the compound when he ate tainted meat from a Basque beef providerthe practice of giving cattle an other animals clenbuterol is well-known in several areas of the world, but it is outlawed in Europe.
The sports world has heard some seemingly outlandish excuses as to how banned substance ended up in the blood of certain athletes, and Contador's tainted meat defense isn't the weirdest, nor was he the first to claim this (he was the only one in this Tour to claim this, however.) It was, for our industry at least, nice to see the first finger of blame was not pointed immediately to a dietary supplement.
Fast forward to the present: the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, overruled an earlier decision by the Spanish Cycling Federation, which had ruled in favor of Contador. This newest ruling strips Contador of his Tour de France title and institutes a two-year ban, retroactively applied. He'll miss this year's race by a month, but is free to resume profession racing in August.
For sports and cycling fans, this is big news. For food and supplement industries, the biggest news is in the Court of Arbitration's ruling, which said the positive test was not likely due to tainted meat (Contador's defense) or blood transfusion (the theory held by the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA), but that is more likely the result of a contaminated dietary supplement.
OK, that came out of nowhere. Or did it? The history of athletes blaming supplements for surprising positive tests is extensive. While a small number have proven a supplement they took was adulterated or mislabeled, most have not. However, it is not uncommon for supplements to be the first thought when an athlete claims a positive test was due to intentional doping. This is the sad fact, despite all the attempts by the supplement industry to defend itself.
What the Court's statement also does is not choose tainted meat over blood doping, or vice versa; instead it makes dietary supplements the scapegoat, although this is the first I've heard of the possibility since this case opened. Either way, dietary supplements are once again the culprit.
In one particular case in which an athleteOlympic swimmer Kicker Vencillproduced a sample of the supplement and had independent testing done. He won a lawsuit against the supplement company, but athletes are still responsible for whatever they put in their bodies, so he was still suspended from the sport. In the case of Contador, the cyclist never produced a sample of the meat, so that theory was squashed by the Court. And despite the fact Contador also tested positive for plasticizers, which are commonly used in IV-based blood doping, the Court panel dismissed the likelihood of doping. Yet, somehow, without any evidence or accusation, much less a sample, it was concluded a supplement was the likely culprit.
If this is what the high court of appeals in world sport think of supplements, the number of athletes around the world pointing to supplements after positive tests is sure to continue, if not grow.
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