Some of you may know that cycling is a sport that is perceived to have a drugs problem. I choose my words carefully here, not because there is no drugs problem – there is a drugs problem – but because there is a perception problem. If you believe all you read, cycling is awash with illegal drug taking, but other sports are not. Anyone over the age of 50 will probably bring up the tale of Tommy Simpson, who asphyxiated on Mt Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France. It turns out that the amphetamines he took were standard issue to United States Air Force pilots to keep them awake on long flights. It’s all a matter of perception.
The winner of last years Tour de France, Alberto Condador was banned recently for testing positive to a minute amount of clenbuterol, an anabolic steroid. That the amount was too small to have affected performance, and that he was tested on a rest day would add some credence to his assertion that it came from infected meat. This is possible, and has been documented in medical publications. I’m not making any comment on the rights and wrongs here. If the man used banned substances then he needs to be punished.
The Spanish authorities (who have a quite lax interpretation of drug offences) banned him for one year, then reduced the ban still further. At this point, WADA (the World Anti Drug Agency) who oversee drug policies and who maintain the list of banned substances and practices took exception and appealed against the decision. They were determined that Alberto would not get away with it.
Then, a few weeks ago, their stance softened, and they decided to wait until August to hold a hearing, thereby allowing Alberto to compete in this years Tour de France, which is held in July. Many other cyclists were either angry that they were going to have to compete against a cheat, or unhappy that the matter could not be decided quickly.
This week, WADA announced that maybe the rules regarding clenbuterol need revising because of the (rather remote) possibility of ingesting the substance from contaminated meat.
Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that currently there are five football players who have tested positive and are claiming the same defence.
As I said at the beginning it’s all a matter of perception.