Friday, September 30, 2011

NFLPA: Stand Firm Against WADA!

This is the most amazing development, a sport union refusing to capitulate to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Forever sports have been dictated to by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA under the threat of exclusion from the Olympic Games, and sports governing bodies such as the International Cycling Union (UCI) have been rendered as impotent as de-fanged, claw-less tigers. Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, has no option but to join with the chorus of defamation of athletes, and Pat McQuaid must eagerly praise and defend WADA accredited laboratory test results; instead of defending his athletes against defamation by WADA.

Not so the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) who are fighting for their players, an original "anti-defamation league." NFLPA is demanding that WADA provide documentation related to WADA Human Growth Hormone (HGH) tests for independent scientific verification before the players union will allow WADA to conduct tests upon players in the NFL.

According to Juliet Macur of the New York Times, the NFLPA group demanding the documents is being lead by former Floyd Landis lead attorney Maurice Suh. Mr. Suh is complaining that WADA is refusing to release documents required to validate through independent research their scientific suppositions pertaining to HGH testing. Mr. Suh is also complaining that without the documentation, once a case reaches arbitration there will be no scientific basis to challenge a false positive test result.

Athletes the world over should applaud the efforts of the NFLPA scientific group and encourage them to continue to pressure WADA for scientific information. If the NFLPA forces WADA to lay their cards on the table before the case goes to arbitration this will save athletes millions of dollars in legal expenses and fees. These issues of scientific validity and reliability of HGH testing must be resolved by independent analysis of the data before the first drop of blood is drawn and before WADA tests the first sample, otherwise the testing will never be verified by independent means. WADA will enforce omerta, the code of silence among it's operatives and challenges by innocent athletes of WADA accredited laboratory generated false positive results will be so expensive and time consuming as to be prohibitive. Dr. Olivier Rabin and David Howman will be popping champagne corks over the successful prosecution of another convicted "doper," who lacked the time, energy, and resources to challenge "a clear laboratory result."

From the New York Times:

WADA officials said the false-positive rate [of WADA HGH tests] is as least one in 10,000 or that the test is 99.99 percent accurate.

Fine. That is a perfectly acceptable statement taken on trust. But as Ronald Reagan so aptly stated, there is a need to verify.

From the New York Times:

The Union said it wants to prove that false positive rate itself by letting its scientists examine the raw data. That includes data regarding the population studies done on athletes that helped set the limit that triggers a positive HGH test.

Ah yes, the classic threshold argument. What ratio of 22 kilodaltons to 20 kilodaltons constitutes threshold and synthetic HGH use? If the threshold is lowered, is it not also obvious to conclude that the false positive rate will increase?

From the New York Times: WADA science director Dr. Olivier Rabin replied to the NFLPA requests for documents this way:

What they want to do is to dig into more details and more things and we say that is not necessary because you have seen our results and we aren't hiding anything from you.

Trust us. You have seen our results and you have to accept our false positive rate. Therefore, you need not verify our conclusions through independent examination of the evidence. If Dr. Rabin offered me prime ocean front property in Arizona based upon this logic, I would refuse to cut him a check until there was independent verification of the property. Thus the problem: WADA truth may be nothing more than opinion, spin, and blue smoke blown up your posterior. Best to make sure through independent verification the validity of preposterous statements rather than to be swindled by deceptive promises that may not exist anywhere else but in WADA reality.

From the New York Times: Dr. Rabin raises another concern.

We are also very careful because people can misuse the information we used to generate the test. We have to protect our information from people who may be advising the athlete on how to cheat.

Yes, of course. Independent examination of WADA raw testing data is going to provide doping doctors with clues on how to deceive WADA laboratory detection! How quaint. That statement is quite scatological and even calamitous if it is directed at Maurice Suh and his independent group of scientific investigators. Even libelous!

This dispute is would be hilarious if so much was not at stake. But I have a solution that would go far to resolve the reliability question, a simple experiment.

A control sample containing a given ratio of 20 to 22 kilodalton isomers of HGH would be distributed to every WADA accredited lab in the world. This would be a simple double blind study because the person providing the sample to the laboratory and the people doing the testing would be blind as to what the sample contained. The instructions would read "test it, and keep a complete laboratory record of your work." At the conclusion of the testing all of the results would be shipped to Maurice Suh and his scientific team for analysis along with a team of WADA scientific experts. If all the laboratories have identical results this would prove once and for all that the test is reliable. If there were many disparate results this would suggest the following possibilities:
1) The test is unreliable.
2) A laboratory or several laboratories doing the testing are incompetent.
3) Therefore: any single result could be construed as a false positive result.

A test is only as good as the person doing the testing. If I hand a person a piece of paper with a one inch line drawn upon it and a ruler, and tell him to measure the line three times, the measurement should be one inch three times. If the measurements do not equal one inch every time, then I can conclude that the problem is not with the line or the ruler, but with the person doing the measuring.

Yes. WADA accredited laboratory Chatenay-Malabry did three testosterone/epitestosterone measurements on one urine sample of Floyd Landis and arrived a three different results. There is a great deal of certainty that the urine sample heated up during the testing and provided at least two false positive results. So, you see, WADA accredited laboratories are capable of making mistakes. WADA accredited laboratories are fallible and capable of generating false positive results and never should be used to test cyclists, football players, or any other athlete.

WADA should not object to my little reliability experiment should they? There is still a question of validity which would not by proven with my experiment, but that is a topic for another day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The NFL and WADA: A Unholy Alliance?

Football? For your information I am a J-E-T-S fan. Naturally, the Patriot and Dolphin fans will think I am an empty concrete head. Unlike some asinine egocentric pundits, I embrace more than one sport and I worry about the consequences of dubious performance enhancing drug use and testing at all times, in all sports.

USA Today has an outstanding story about the current brouhaha over human growth hormone testing that was negotiated between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). There seems to be questions raised by the players union over the validity and reliability of the WADA HGH testing.

NFLPA has requested WADA to provide documents related to the scientific validity of the WADA HGH testing, according to NFLPA spokesman George Atallah. To quote from the USA Today article:

The players have asked WADA repeatedly for information related to their testing program. Those requests have been denied. For us to move forward with a fair, safe and effective testing program, it is critical that we receive that information.

David Howman WADA director general responded to the NFLPA request:

The union is seeking information that does not exist. There is nothing that we can give them.

Welcome NFLPA to WADA world, the land of fruits and nuts! It is reasonable, prudent, and justified to question WADA about the reliability and validity of their HGH testing in advance of any testing of NFL players. Why? Because if you don't work out ironclad legally incontestable stipulations with WADA, once they get their foot in the door, it will be much too late, too expensive, of too long duration, and too litigious to force them to provide legal documents to justify their methodology and laboratory practice to the defense, if, an athlete contests WADA laboratory results.

NFLPA has a reasons to fear for their players, but there is hope depending upon how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell deals with with truculent WADA director general David Howman. The best possible result for the NFL would be to force WADA to comply with NFL requests for information in an ironclad non negotiable agreement. The NFL is not an Olympic sport and, therefore, must be exempt from International Olympic Committee (IOC) blackmail. The case should be an internal NFL matter exempt from the WADA strict liability rule. If commissioner Roger Goodell acts as czar, if commissioner Roger Goodell imposes a sanction after a positive test for HGH, and if the sanction is contested by a player, in the interest of fairness, he must demand all of the relevant lab document package information be released to the league, and, any other requested information that pertains to WADA accredited laboratory testing that could be contested by the athlete. WADA would also be forced to comply with NFL requests for information pertaining to adherence to International Standards for Testing (IST) or Laboratories (ISL), or to issues pertaining to calibration of equipment, chain-of-custody, security of the samples, or to any other information that would be considered germane to a case. Then the NFL could provide all of these requested documents to the defense team for consideration, before a potential arbitration hearing or civil trial could be convened. Of course, this may force WADA laboratories to become a transparent organization for the first time in history, the sloppy laboratory practices exposed, the cover-ups exposed, the whole system vulnerable, unprotected by the IOC umbrella.

Wouldn't it be better for the NFL to reconsider the necessity of using WADA accredited laboratories UCLA and UTAH (PAC-12!) and instead seek another organization with an accreditation in International Standards for Laboratories and Standards, and avoid all of this nonsense?

Because the scientific issues of HGH testing seem to be very straight forward according to David Burns, pathologist, University of Virgina:

HGH comes in two isoforms weight 20 or 22 kilodaltons. Synthetic HGH comes in only one weight or the other and can't easily be mixed to achieve the "proper ratio."

The proper ratio? Whatever that means. The NFLPA wants a population study done to establish a "baseline," rather than to accept an arbitrary "normal" physiological "range."

Perhaps the NFL could establish the NFL Biological Passport and establish a baseline for all NFL players. The concept seems so basic, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has used one for years, they have even suspended cyclists in the absence of a "clear laboratory result," based upon red flag tendencies voted upon by a committee convened for the purpose to establish the presence of doping. And the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) has determined that banishment of riders by committee consensus is appropriate, incontestable, and has no appeal to a higher power! Of course, the NFL does not come under the jurisdiction of the UCI or the CAS, so, they can invent their own committee to establish doping offenses based upon suspect biological parameters, if desired. And they could even convict some poor guy from the practice squad and use him as an example of how successful the program is, and how this justifies the contribution made to the program by all of the teams in the NFL. Besides, if you are going to select a scapegoat you sure are not going to highlight film suspect values from Payton Manning or Aaron Rogers, and you sure are not going to use them as examples of dopers in the NFL, even if you are convinced that they are using HGH, because they put butts in seats and generate revenues. In sport, money is the bottom line. In football, careers are short, competition is intense, performance is demanded in a violent environment. In football, injury is a common occurrence, and injuries can terminate lucrative contracts. So the goal is to recover as quickly as possible from injury, and HGH has been alleged to speed recovery. Therefore, there is a temptation to cheat! Baseline scores are all well and good, but be careful what you wish for, baselines can be manipulated by micro-dosing of prohibited drugs, which make individual differences meaningless, and a biological passport system can be manipulated in the interests of money. For example, WADA has an interest to modify the strict liability rule in the interests of a single athlete, Alberto Contador, because the organizers of the Tour de France are worried that even a one year suspension of a Spanish cycling idol, required under the WADA strict liability rule, would cause the television stations in Spain to stop televising the race like the German television stations did a couple of years ago. And non televised races cost millions of Euros in sponsorship fees and advertising!

Roger Goodell, don't invite corruption to stain the shield. Dump WADA before it is too late.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cycling: Doping Femme Fatale?

Just when you thought the doping news was on the wane, unexpected things happen. Jeanne Longo, the French female cycling sensation withdraws from the UCI Road World Championships after allegations that her husband and coach Patrice Ciprelli was linked to a purchase of rEPO in 2007. To make matters worse, the French Cycling Federation (FFC) has reported that Jeanne Longo has missed three random out-of-competition drug tests because her whereabouts were unknown. The FFC has announced that they are considering disciplinary action that may result in a two year suspension.

Does it not seem suspicious that a fifty two year old woman is trouncing young twenty something femme fatales, in their primes, at the height of their athletic abilities, in a time trial, with a normal physiology? Doubtful. In any event, this episode reminds me of Michael Rasmussen, who missed random out-of-competition tests, misreported his whereabouts, and then was fired by Rabobank during the 2007 Tour de France while wearing the malliot jaune. Michael Rasmussen was and then suspended for two years by the Monaco Cycling Federation. The Michael Rasmussen suspension was affirmed by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) on appeal. And under normal conditions the fate of Jeanne Longo seems certain, but...

These are strange days. WADA has gone off the deep end by admitting that athletes can be contaminated by performance enhancing drugs without wilful intent to increase performance. This accidental contact seems to be limited to a single drug, clenbuterol: a drug that theoretically could be transmitted from a contaminated beef stake into an athlete by ingestion. However, this hypothetical contamination by ingestion argument is not shared by all biochemists, some experts have reported that for a beef stake to infect an athlete, the concentration of clenbuterol present in the meat would be toxic enough to kill the athlete.

Well, this is certainly a curious argument and one wonders why WADA would suddenly consider a single anabolic steroid beyond the Richard Young standard of strict liability. One wonders if there is not some conflict of interest involved here. Perhaps the motive is to protect a single athlete? Never, in all the years of the current anti-doping Inquisition, has a single athlete escaped the wrath of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), WADA, and the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). Never have the powers relented and accepted a rational argument in a humane fashion under the declaration of human rights.

Until now! It should be obvious to everyone that WADA and the UCI never had any interest in appealing the Spanish Sport Federation (RFEC) exoneration of Alberto Contador. Now, WADA wants to exempt clenbuterol from the strict liability requirement before his case is heard before the CAS....where under appropriate pressure there is a high probability that the case will be dismissed.

Why? Because WADA wants only one disgraced Tour de France champion who will live in infamy for doping...the son of a poor American Mennonite farmer, Floyd Landis: a man who was vilified in the most inhumane way by WADA, USADA, the UCI, and the CAS. Unfortunately, during that period they were burning one hundred heretics a day at the stake during the splendid auto de fe.

But, when a European prince is accused of wrong doing and faces certain expulsion, WADA has suddenly abandoned the stake in the interests of humanity. Ye reek of hypocrisy.

Behind me hence, Satan. If I were running the UCI, association with the IOC and their maniacal satellites would terminate henceforth. The IOC thinks that the UCI and many nation states can be blackmailed and forced to comply with their agenda as signatories; their threat? submit or be excluded from Olympic athletic competition. I would call their bluff, begone! cycling would end the incestuous relationship with WADA. WADA accredited laboratories would be excluded from all cycling testing, including Tour de France testing, and replaced with competent testing laboratories from internationally accredited organizations independent of WADA and the IOC. Appeals of decisions of national cycling federations would be directed to an arbitration panel independent of WADA. If, in retaliation, the IOC decided to eliminate all cycling sport from the Olympics as punishment, the UCI would encourage outraged cycling fanatics to demand that the sport of cycling be returned to it's rightful place in the pantheon. Then the UCI would demand that the IOC publicly apologize to the riders and their supporters, then demand that the IOC make further concessions.

If the national cycling federations insist upon protecting their favorite sons with outrageous exoneration of "clear laboratory results" then the UCI would be responsible for the direction of the final appeal to an judicial review board independent of the UCI, the IOC, and their alphabet soup affiliates. Got it?

Good. And don't even think of doing Jeanne Longo any special favors!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

WADA: The Death of Strict Liability?

Wow, astounding news. WADA is considering relaxing the strict liability rule for clenbuterol, a prohibited substance, anabolic steroid, and bronchodilator that has been abused among professional cyclists to increase performance for years. The pretext for relaxing the rule comes under the auspices of accidental ingestion by athletes of the drug through contaminated meat products. According to the British Broadcasting System Radio large quantities of clenbuterol are used in China and Mexico to induce lean muscle mass among cattle destined for slaughter.

Wonderful. WADA has finally admitted that the draconian, unreasonable strict liability ethos of mere presence of a prohibited substance detected in an athlete constitutes a grounds for criminal culpability and a grounds for punishment; regardless of intent. For years WADA has treated athletes who by accident came into contact with a prohibited substances through ignorance, or by chance, or through the carelessness of pharmaceutical companies, or because of changes in chemical formulations; the same way as they they treated athletes who used prohibited substances to gain an unfair advantage. Even in cases where it was clear that the athlete was not to blame; WADA still exacted a year long suspension.

This farce has always been considered as an unfair judicial process that dehumanizes the athlete, subjects the athlete to prolonged media attacks, introduces into the process unfair characterizations and innuendos, and jeopardizes future career opportunities. Also, the concept of strict liability exacts an outrageously large and prolonged financial burden on the athlete in legal expenses, a financial burden that is not equally shared by the anti-doping authorities who are publicly financed. Cases that are complex in nature may require complicated arbitration rulings, additional testing, discovery challenges, appeals: all the while the athlete is expected to live in limbo as to the final resolution of his or her case. Certain cases have had litigation costs into the millions of dollars, and have taken over to two years to resolve.

It is commendable that the WADA executive committee should consider allowing for a possible extenuation in the case of accidental exposure to clenbuterol; but why not expand the same reasoning to include all substances on the prohibited list? It is as likely to be accidentally exposed to one drug as another; and in the interests of harmony all accidental exposure should be treated in an equal fashion.

However, there is the danger that in reducing the criteria of strict liability for prohibited drugs detected, to a new standard of drugs detected explained away by an argument of accidental exposure; that this relaxation in policy will encourage recreant behavior by athletes, team doctors, professional medical consultants, or coaches, who may encourage the use of micro dosing techniques; in effect, rolling the dice in the hope of foiling the current doping detection methods with an obvious intent to gain an unfair advantage over the competition. And, as in the case of clenbuterol, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is most convenient to explain to the anti-doping federation that the meat was most unfortunately imported from China, and shipped to the dinner table in a hermetically sealed blood transfusion bag. A preposterous story of this nature attempts not only to justify the presence of a drug, but even better, the unusually high level of plastic residues found in blood and urine tests of this hypothetical athlete. And, of course, this fable explains away everything in a most convenient fashion. If this fable is successful in eliciting an exoneration by the anti-doping agency responsible for case management of the athlete, instead of a suspension for the athlete, this will encourage fables of a similar origin. Fabricated excuses will be invented ever and anon every time a doping strategy is detected by the laboratories.

Catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don't. There are perils in both arguments. But the reform of the WADA code has taken much too long to evolve.