The Armstrong case result should serve as a warning to all athletes that doping doesn’t pay.
This is the message from SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport Chairman, Dr. Shuaib Manjra, who says that it is heartening that after significant prevarication from the International Cycling Federation (UCI) they unequivocally accepted US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) report yesterday, resulting in Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life.
“It seems as if the evidence against Tour De France seven time champion Lance Armstrong, accused of using and trafficking performance enhancing drugs, was so compelling that they had no other option,” says Manjra. “UCI also had to protect the integrity of the sport after their inability to deal with doping in their sport for such a long time despite numerous signs and warnings.”
Manjra says that the case against the US Postal Cycling team is beyond doubt, the most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport and that the most concerning fact about this case is the systematic nature and sophistication of the Armstrong doping programme.
“Armstrong used the most sophisticated devices to avoid detection including autologous blood transfusions, intravenous EPO and micro-doses of testosterone,” says Manjra. “Interesting he did return positive tests, which for some reason were not followed up. Additionally, his biological passport showed an indication of doping. In addition, he was convicted on the basis of testimony of fellow athletes and support team members.”
Manjra points out that when using EPO in the early days there was no detection method. “However once such a method was developed the laboratories re-analysed stored samples,” he explains. “Such tests of Armstrong showed signs of EPO use. So clearly we have more methods now that we can use to detect doping.”
He says that Anti-Doping Agencies have to ‘up their game’ if they are to keep abreast with cheats who are using sophisticated doping methods.
“Moreover, it seems as if the problem is systemic in cycling,” he says. “The ineffectiveness with which the UCI dealt with doping in cycling, and in Armstrong’s case in particular, is concerning at a time when we are attempting to get consistency around the world in relation to policy, laws and anti-doping procedures.”
He says that the action of the US Federal authorities in dropping the case against Lance Armstrong is also questionable. “We applaud Travis Tygart and this team at USADA for pursuing this case against enormous political pressure, threats and at huge financial cost,” he adds.
However, Manjra stresses that there is an upside to this case – in that a significant number of elite cyclists were willing to come out in the open and expose this scourge that has been afflicting cycling for decades. “These individuals need to be commended for their bravery in the fact of threats, loss of earnings and a blot to their reputation – all in the interest of cleaning up a sport that they love,” he says.
While, according to Manjra there is no evidence to suggest that blood doping and EPO is wide-spread in SA, he stresses that blood doping is very difficult to detect. This has prompted SAIDS to introduce a biological passport programme that tracks the blood and steroid profiles of athletes in addition to existing tools for identifying doping cheats.
“In our regular testing program we attempt to detect the prohibited drug or its markers or metabolites in blood or urine,” he explains. “In a biological passport we attempt to detect the effects of banned substances, long after the substance is taken. We do that by creating a expected “normal” blood and steroid profile for that individual using a statistic profile from previous tests. Deviations outside of the individuals expected profile generally constitutes a doping offence.”
Manjra says that biological passports is an essential tool in the fight against doping in sport. “Many drugs can be eradicated from the body very rapidly and our window of detection would be very small. On the other hand the effects of such substances last a longer time and we would be able to detect use of prohibited substances long after such use.”
Manjra says that in South Africa we do not have disproportionately high positive samples in cycling, so relatively speaking in SA, cycling is no worse than any other sport.
“SA’s Minister of Sport, SASCOC and the National Federations are commended for always respecting the independence of SAIDS in carrying out is legislated mandate – at the same time providing us with the necessary resources,” says Manjra. “The Minister’s role in the WADA Executive Committee is also important in dealing with these issues at international level. The WADA Executive Committee is one of the highest decision making bodies in anti-doping in the world.”
Manjra says he encourages the public to read the 200-odd page report from USADA, which can be found on their website which gives a glimpse into the workings of this doping syndicate.