3 April 2017
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is aware of the documentary and article released today by German broadcaster, ARD, titled “Doping – Top Secret”.
They focus on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) Re-Analysis Program for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing; in particular, Results Management decisions taken in relation to low levels of the prohibited substance ‘clenbuterol’.
It has been scientifically established that an athlete can test positive for clenbuterol at low levels following ingestion of contaminated meat. There have been hundreds of cases – limited to a number of countries where contamination is known to be an issue and where the athletes would have resided, trained and/or competed; and, these cases have been treated in the same way as those identified through the Beijing Re-Analysis Program.
This unsatisfactory situation related to meat contamination with clenbuterol has been widely acknowledged by the anti-doping community. Effectively, when the circumstances of a positive case indicate that the athlete has been in one of the identified countries where clenbuterol meat contamination is significant, the anti-doping community views it as unreasonable to put the burden of proof on the athlete, i.e. to prove that the meat, which he or she had consumed, was contaminated; in particular, eight years after the fact. However, before a case is closed on the basis of low clenbuterol levels consistent with contamination, WADA recommends investigating such things as meat intake and whether there was exposure to a geographical area where contaminated meat is known to be prevalent.
“We acknowledge that the clenbuterol meat contamination issue is unsatisfactory,” said Olivier Niggli, Director General, WADA. “Accordingly, since 2011, the Agency has carried out several research studies aimed at providing analytical means to distinguish ingestion of clenbuterol by pharmacological origin versus that of meat contamination,” he continued. “We will continue to invest in scientific research to try to solve this issue as quickly as possible,” Niggli continued. “However, in the meantime, we maintain that disciplinary proceedings against athletes with low level urinary concentrations, from countries known for significant risk of exposure, would have little to no prospect of success; and, would be very unfair to the athletes concerned.”
In relation to ARD’s focus on the IOC’s Re-Analysis Program for the 2008 Beijing Games; in particular, Results Management decisions taken in relation to low levels of clenbuterol, WADA worked closely with the IOC; and, after long deliberation, and without knowing the identity of athletes involved, determined that the levels were consistent with meat contamination.
It is also worth noting that even more clenbuterol cases (in the hundreds) have been prosecuted and have led to sanctions since 2010. Pharmacological intake of clenbuterol for doping purposes does not go unpunished. Ultimately, reason must prevail when the circumstances of a positive case indicate that the athlete has been in one of the identified countries where clenbuterol meat contamination is significant. Until research provides the means to clearly and absolutely distinguish between contamination and pharmacological intake with low levels of clenbuterol, all cases must be managed fairly, in the interest of clean sport.
As this is a very complex topic, which is subject to misinterpretation, the Agency wishes to clarify more facts as outlined below.
- Clenbuterol is a prohibited substance, classified under the category of Other Anabolic Agents on the Prohibited List because it promotes muscle growth through anabolic properties.
- Clenbuterol is sometimes used, as a performance enhancer, by athletes to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat.
- For many years, there have been reports of clenbuterol use in some countries to promote growth in livestock, including: cattle, lamb and swine.
- As far back as 2011, WADA issued specific warnings about this problem in China and Mexico, where the prevalence of meat contamination by clenbuterol is known to be high.
- There have been numerous reported cases in countries where ingestion of meat, originating from an animal that has received illicit administration of clenbuterol, has resulted in low level positive samples.
- Unfortunately, anti-doping authorities have no control over agricultural and food safety practices in these countries, and inadvertent ingestion is an ongoing issue for athletes. The matter has been raised with public authorities; however, in most cases, it is linked with black market activity in the meat production chain.
- Despite continuously improving analytical methods for testing, it still remains impossible, without taking into account other factors, to determine whether a positive sample stems from pharmacological intake of clenbuterol or unintentional ingestion through contaminated meat.
- Under the World Anti-Doping Code (Code), any amount of clenbuterol is reported by WADA-accredited laboratories.
- Pre-Beijing, athletes were warned of the clenbuterol food contamination issue in China. Since then, further information has confirmed the high prevalence in China.
- As it relates to the IOC’s Re-Analysis Program for Beijing, it was determined that, eight years later, athletes could not reasonably be expected to recall where and what they ate, which may have led to their consuming the substance.
- There have been numerous, high profile, cases beyond the IOC Re-Analysis Program which have been managed the same way; such as, the over 100 players that tested positive for clenbuterol, due to contaminated meat, during the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mexico.
- In fairness to all athletes, WADA’s approach for such cases has been consistent when the levels and the circumstances of the case are compatible with meat contamination.
- Since the issue of meat contamination was first exposed, WADA has been working closely with sports authorities in the countries concerned to address the root cause; and, has dedicated significant resources to research studies aimed at distinguishing pharmacological versus contamination origins of clenbuterol. This work is ongoing.
- It should be noted that athletes around the world are tested by WADA-accredited laboratories having very low level detection for clenbuterol. Cases are regularly reported and sanctioned when it is proven that the clenbuterol is of pharmacological origin. Hundreds of cases have been prosecuted since 2010.
The IOC Re-Analysis Program: 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
- The IOC Re-Analysis Program is carried out in accordance with Article 6 of the Code.
- All re-analyses from the 2008 Beijing Games were based on intelligence.
- Out of the 4,800 samples taken at the Games, 1,053 were re-analysed.
- Re-analysis is always performed with improved analytical methods, in order to possibly detect prohibited substances that could not be identified by the analysis performed at the time of Games.
- In April 2016, in connection with the IOC’s re-analysis of stored urine samples from the 2008 Games, the Lausanne laboratory found a few cases of low levels of clenbuterol, from a number of countries and sports.
- As the Results Management Authority, the IOC reported these Provisional Analytical Findings (PAFs) to WADA in April 2016.
- All of the values were below 1ng/ml and therefore in the range of potential meat contamination cases.
- Before drawing conclusions, WADA advised the IOC to conduct pattern analyses on the cases and to report back. In other words, the Agency asked that they look to see whether there were common factors between the cases that could suggest whether it was more likely to be doping or meat contamination.
- In May 2016, after having reviewed the pattern analyses data provided by the IOC, WADA confirmed that they could not find any significant and consistent pattern of abuse of clenbuterol in these cases and that, therefore, it would not be reasonable to pursue these cases and ask the athlete to prove that it was the result of meat contamination, in particular eight years after the fact.
- The IOC informed WADA that the findings would be used for targeting purposes, i.e. all concerned athletes that competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were targeted for re-analysis.