Anti-doping officials call for health passports, whistleblowing hotline

Tuesday, October 3rd 2006, 11:45 am
By: News On 6

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ Health passports for athletes, a whistleblowing hotline and quicker sample testing could soon find a role in the fight against doping.

At the end of a three-day anti-doping symposium organized by the International Association of Athletics Federations, officials and competitors agreed on the need for medical profiles to keep track of individual athletes' physiological makeup. They also backed a worldwide data base storing and evaluating the information.

``It's not that we suspect individual athletes but we wish to protect the vast majority who aren't doing anything wrong from those who try to cheat you, rob you and steal your glory,'' World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee member Arne Ljungqvist said. ``That's why we need to profile all athletes individually.''

Health passports _ or medical profiles _ could help anti-doping agencies identify abnormalities or detect sudden changes in an athlete's blood. WADA first championed the idea in 2001, but it has recently gained momentum.

Currently, testers measure athletes' samples against predetermined average levels for substances naturally occurring in the body _ such as EPO and testosterone. But this potentially allows athletes with naturally low levels to cheat without being detected.

The IAAF's medical and anti-doping commission hopes to launch the project before the world championships at Osaka next August.

Athletes and officials also want shorter times between testing ``A'' and ``B'' samples, arguing that sample deterioration has allowed cheaters to evade punishment.

``We want 'B' samples tested as soon as possible because otherwise you run the risk of not being able to confirm the 'A' sample,'' said Christiane Ayotte, head of the WADA-accredited doping control laboratory in Montreal.

WADA used to allow two to three weeks for the request of a ``B''-sample analysis, but have begun putting pressure on athletes to be quicker about it.

``Now, even before we notify an athlete of an adverse finding, at the point we're going to issue the letter to him for the first time, we've already contacted the laboratory to determine the date of 'B' sample test,'' IAAF legal council Huw Roberts said. ``That will hopefully cut down on delays.''

A possible hot line for whistleblowers also generated enthusiasm.

``Many people just don't know who to call, who to talk to,'' Bahamian sprinter Debbie Ferguson said. ``In my career, I don't know of any athlete taking a doping substance but if I ever had any hard evidence I would make the call.''

IAAF officials are also considering a ``no-start rule'' for athletes with inexplicably high blood values, already used in some sports like cycling. When unable to prove illegal blood manipulation, some sports suspend athletes with abnormal blood parameters for a few days or weeks ``for health reasons,'' to act as a deterrent.

``It is called a health test but that is an excuse or a pretext,'' Ljungqvist said. ``The real idea behind it is to prevent doped athletes from competing.

Other topics discussed were designer drugs; new forms of EPO; conditions influencing blood parameters such as exercise, environment, hydration and the storage and transport of samples; the need for more cooperation between sports federations, anti-doping agencies and governments.

``The cheaters are a small minority and mostly at the top of our sport,'' Ferguson said.