FIFA fails and track history

FIFA Might Have Dropped The Ball in Dope Testing

With just a few months to go before the kickoff of the World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s inadequate dope testing and Brazil’s questionable testing procedures raise doubts concerning the integrity of the test samples. FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, “hasn’t caught a men’s World Cup player for PED use since Argentine star Diego Maradona tested positive for five variants of the stimulant ephedrine in 1994.” FIFA maintains that their relatively drug-free history means that its athletes avoid using performance-enhancing drugs. Most anti-doping officials disagree, and I am inclined to agree. It seems ridiculous that athletes in other international sports suffer positive drug tests, while soccer players competing in the World Cup escape positive tests. FIFA’s stance on its relatively drug-free World Cup athletes may remind some over Kenya’s previous boasts of drug-free athletes. Turns out they were wrong – and it’s possible that FIFA may suffer a similar revelation.

Brazil is already under fire for its lack of accreditation.  WADA “suspended the accreditation of the existing lab in Rio de Janeiro last fall after it fell below the agency’s required standards, which can mean it failed to determine the correct results on samples sent to evaluate its proficiency, according to Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer.” The process Brazil adopted to collect samples is under severe scrutiny, despite Dvorak’s assurances that everything will run smoothly. As custom for World Cup matches, a random selection of 256 players will provide samples at matches. FIFA hired over a dozen physicians to collect the samples, overtaking a duty usually given to anti-doping officers. Dvorak remarked on having physicians take care of the collection process, as he wants individuals with medical degrees responsible for the collection of the samples. After the physicians collect the samples, the samples will be flown to Zurich from São Paulo – roughly a nine-hour flight. But what is troubling about the collection of the samples is that only “six of the 64 World Cup matches take place in São Paulo”; the other matches occur in 11 other cities. The other 11 cities range in 1-5 hour travel time difference to São Paulo. All samples will leave from an airport in São Paulo, meaning that samples from other cities must be flown to São Paulo before leaving for Switzerland. The farthest city, Manaus, is a five-hour flight, “meaning samples collected in that city won’t arrive in the lab for another two nights, or roughly 36 hours.”

The article points out two major factors – time and “chain-of-custody” – both of which may influence the integrity of the sample. Time “matters a great deal,” said Don Catlin, the former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. The substantial time lapse between the initial collection of the sample and when it is actually tested “will raise questions about the integrity of the sample.” Over time, a sample ages due to the live enzymes and other factors in a sample that causes aging. Second, the “chain-of-custody” – that is, the amount of stops the sample experiences before it is finally tested – affects the sample as well. While the Lausanne lab is known for its rapid turn-over time (24-48 hours), the nine-hour flight, coupled with the waiting times at each destination, elevates the risk that samples may become tainted due to lack of care.

FIFA’s testing procedures allow its players to “beat the system.” Generally, U.S. athletes undergo “surprise” testing. Doping officials may test athletes in their homes or hotel rooms without prior notice. Surprise testing is recognized as the most effective antidoping program, “since scientists have largely figured out how to flush the body of performance-enhancing drugs in a matter of hours.” However, Dvorak said “all random pre-competition testing, which began this month, is taking place at stadiums and training sites.” Daniel Eichner, executive director of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, is concerned about FIFA’s testing procedure. He commented that “if you always test at training or games, it’s a pretty easy system to beat.”

The Wind Read Zero: Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49 Enigma 

July 16, 1988 was a historic day in track and field. At the United States Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana, Florence-Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) ran a blazing 10.49 time in the quarterfinal heat of the women’s 100 meter dash. Her time was nearly three tenths of a second off the then-world record set at 10.76 – and the wind gauge allegedly read 0.0. The wind gauge read 0.0 within the next heat as well, which led to another group of speedier-than-average times – even for world class sprinters at that time. While many may see the time and consequently drop their jaws (if they understand just how fast that is), others wonder about its questionable validity based on the surrounding controversy.

Background: some events in track and field have wind gauges – the 100 meter dash being one of them – and if the wind reading is over 2.0 meters per second, the mark or time is considered a “wind-aided” mark. Wind-aided marks cannot become world records. What puzzles individuals is that other wind readings from that day in other events (for instance, the triple jump, which took place simultaneously) “had an aiding wind in excess of the legal limit of 2.0 meters per second.” Omega, the timing company for the meet, “maintained that the wind reading was correct.”  The Athletics Congress (TAC), the sport’s national governing body at the time and the IAAF both accepted the mark, and “10.49 was ratified as the world record in the women’s 100.”

Her record still holds up today. The next closest mark on the all-time list? Flo-Jo – at 10.61 – the day after her world record. Al Joyner, Flo-Jo’s husband, said to CNN after her death, “At first, when she beat the record, they said it was wind assisted. Later when she won the medals they said it was drugs.” The article then goes into an unusual sequence of small blurbs about the controversy. One blurb that sticks out is by Mike Takaha: “There were a whole bunch of people that ran really fast there, and not just for that one race, but throughout the series….the prelims and the semis that just…it was crazy…It was like “what the heck is going on here?” Did gravity stop working or what?” Others discussed how windy it was, and triple jumpers competing at the same time remarked how well its competition went in producing two 18-meter jumpers. It’s a long list of comments and remarks, so you can sift through at your leisure.

In sponsorship news, a new sports apparel called 1st Round Athletics recently signed Shawn Crawford, the Olympic gold medalist in the 200 meter at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and rookie linebacker Jordan Campbell of the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL). The company designs innovative clothing. Currently, it is “seeking investment on crowdfunding site indiegogo, weaves a mineral compound yarn into its products in order to deliver up to 12 per cent more oxygen to the wearer’s muscles, and therefore reduce fatigue.”

There’s an article that male marathoners who run annual marathons may be increasing their risk of having heart attacks. Scientists conducted a study on males who ran a marathon every year for twenty-five years in a row, and found that they had increased levels of artery plaque in their hearts.

Finally, the prosecution in Oscar Pistorius’ trial has rested, so the defense team will begin presenting its side of the case tomorrow.


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