LONDON — The director of the World Anti-Doping Agency suggests that the collection and testing of backup “B” samples should be scrapped in order to save time and money in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
WADA director general David Howman said Monday that doping cheats are getting an easier ride than common criminals because of their right to a second sample.
“People can go to jail on the basis of one bodily sample being collected, and sport really is on its own in collecting two samples,” Howman said in an interview during an international sports and Olympic conference in London.
Howman was pressed on the issue of cutting drug-testing costs by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, an umbrella body representing the 26 sports on the Summer Games program.
“We spend half our time justifying costs,” Howman said. “Here’s a way in which you could save a lot of costs and not hurt any person’s individual rights or opportunities. I don’t know if there’s a resistance or not but it would certainly make a lot of difference economically.”
Under normal practice, an athlete’s urine or blood sample is divided into two samples — “A” and “B” — and sealed in separate specimen bottles. If the “A” comes back positive, the athlete can request analysis of the “B” sample.
Howman said the number of times the second sample contradicts the first is “almost zero.” When that happens, he said, it is either because the second sample has disintegrated over time or because of manipulation by the athlete.
“Some athletes are putting stuff into their urine to degrade the sample,” he said, citing the practice of diluting urine samples by drinking two liters of water. “Sample dilution is one of the best ways for athletes to manipulate a test.”
Howman said the samples of Austrian cross-country and Nordic skiing athletes who were targeted in police raids during the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, had been “diluted to such a degree it could not make them a positive case.” The athletes were sanctioned by the IOC based on evidence seized in the police search.
Howman said the idea of doing away with “B” samples should be debated during next year’s review of WADA’s global anti-doping code. The new code will go into effect in 2015.
“It is a topic that deserves wide consultation and wide consideration,” Howman said. “This is just a challenging idea. I’m not saying if I back it ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ But it doesn’t seem to me to have too many downsides. I would hope that sanity and common sense would prevail.”
There have been cases of false positives in “A” samples, with athletes later exonerated by the backup test. Howman said canceling “B” samples would not jeopardize athletes’ rights.
“There’s always going to be an ability to examine the residue of the sample you have in one bottle,” he said. “You just don’t have the same process.”
“There will be those that resist it for sure,” he added. “There will be those that say it’s an athlete’s right, you cannot erode athletes’ rights. When you say athletes have better rights than normal human beings in relation to criminal law, then I think you’re starting to get out of proportion.”
On a separate issue, Howman said WADA had asked the Chinese and Mexican governments for information on contamination of meat with clenbuterol or other banned substances. Tour de France champion Alberto Contador blamed contaminated Spanish beef for his positive clenbuterol test, and WADA has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his acquittal by the Spanish cycling federa tion.
“We have written both to China and to Mexico to ask them to explain if there is any possibility of contaminated meat,” Howman said. “We have got some replies. We’re looking at those now.”
Even if meat can be contaminated, Howman stressed, it does not necessarily mean that athletes can inadvertently test positive for the substance.
“The real big issue is this: Can steroids being fed to animals lead to positive test results?” Howman said. “That’s the question and it has to be examined a little more closely yet. We still have some distance to go before we say yea or nay.”