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Fields & Applications Metabolomics & Lipidomics

Fair Play at the World Cup

Somewhat amazingly, every single player at the World Cup in Brazil was clean (1). And that’s not because the authorities didn’t bother testing anyone after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revoked the accreditation of Rio de Janeiro’s Ladetec laboratory months ahead of the tournament. No. WADA and FIFA came to the agreement that an accredited laboratory in Switzerland would be used to analyze samples for the tournament – surely, a logistical and chain-of-custody nightmare.

It seems staggering to think that not one of the nearly 750 players involved hadn’t at least eaten contaminated meat. (Mexico’s coach banned his players from eating beef in Brazil for fear of being tested positive for clenbuterol after infringements in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup). But for FIFA’s World Cup at least, that’s two decades of clean sheets; you have to go back to 1994 to find a positive test (ephedrine) and a disgraced Diego Maradona. So, either world class football players hail from an extremely clean culture where performance-enhancing drugs are frowned upon or... I would be interested to hear your views. Perhaps Juliet Macur of The New York Times has got the right idea: “Don’t let it ruin this moment. No one ever tests positive at the World Cup. Just do what FIFA has done in the past: close your eyes and pretend that doping in soccer does not exist.” (2).

The Analytical Scientist has covered sports doping several times, most recently when doping expert Douwe de Boer went head-to-head with the Dutch Doping Authority’s Herman Ram (3). But, with two polar opposite views, the discussion left more questions than it answered. For example, how much effort is appropriate and what priority should doping receive?

Other big tournaments this summer, such as Wimbledon and the French Open Tennis Championships, also seem to be clean, which goes against the grain given that WADA recently announced a 20 percent rise in abnormal test findings recorded by anti-doping authorities worldwide in 2013 (4). So, have all top athletes cleaned up their act or has WADA dropped the ball?

Still, with nearly 6,000 adverse or atypical test results in 2013, there have to be casualties. One this year is runner Adrienne Herzog, who tested positive for elevated testosterone in an out-of-competition sample. She concluded in a very personal blog post (5): “It is so unjust - this one-sided balance of power. WADA does the initial test, the confirmatory tests, reaches a verdict, and then administers the penalty. Where are the checks and balances here to ensure I get a fair shake at things?” Discuss.

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About the Author

Rich Whitworth

Rich Whitworth completed his studies in medical biochemistry at the University of Leicester, UK, in 1998. To cut a long story short, he escaped to Tokyo to spend five years working for the largest English language publisher in Japan. "Carving out a career in the megalopolis that is Tokyo changed my outlook forever. When seeing life through such a kaleidoscopic lens, it's hard not to get truly caught up in the moment." On returning to the UK, after a few false starts with grey, corporate publishers, Rich was snapped up by Texere Publishing, where he spearheaded the editorial development of The Analytical Scientist. "I feel honored to be part of the close-knit team that forged The Analytical Scientist – we've created a very fresh and forward-thinking publication." Rich is now also Content Director of Texere Publishing, the company behind The Analytical Scientist.

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