SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) is in the process of doing retroactive testing for EPO (Erythropoietin) of all blood samples of over 50 top cyclists that competed in major mountain and road races during 2012 to establish whether EPO doping took place and if an EPO doing infrastructure exists in SA. Athletes testing positive will be charged and could face bans.
This is according to SAIDS CEO, Khalid Galant, who says that retroactive (backdated) analyses is one way of finding out if a major EPO doping problem exists in this country.
He says that this crack down comes after SA’s first recent EPO positive involving David George, one of SA’s top cyclists who tested positive in an out-of-competition test in August 2012, and amid the Armstrong drama, that involves the most sophisticated doping programme the world has ever seen.
“These scandals have made it clear that we need to do our own due diligence to establish whether EPO doping is happening in SA,” says Galant. “Part of this strategy is via retroactive analysis of all samples of road and mountain cyclists who tested clear in 2012, specifically for EPO, a hormone that artificially increases the red blood cell count and therefore increases the athlete’s oxygen carrying capacity, and, in turn, enhances performance, to get a confirmatory result. We will do this using samples taken and stored in our laboratory in Bloemfontein and results will be out in a few weeks.”
He continues: “Cycling is being damaged by these high profile doping cases with a high sense of cynism existing, therefore we need to act now and ensure that this does not become a trend moving forward.”
Galant says that cyclists that tested ‘clean’ in major cycle races last year have an opportunity to act now and exercise their right in terms of the WADA code and come forward before prosecution.
“In doing so they can enter a plea bargain and can get a substantially reduced sentence before charges are brought against them,” he explains. “Similar to what Levi Leipheimer did when he came forward and owned up to doping to the anti-doping authorities for the Armstrong prosecution. In his case he received a six month sanction instead of a lifetime ban.”
Galant adds: “We warned the sports community that we would be vigorous in our testing of both the blood and urine of SA’s top athletes and that we would aggressively target EPO dopers.”
He says that the recent Armstrong and George scandals have accelerated this process. “We need to clean up cycling. The excuse that ‘everyone is doing it’ does not wash. Cyclists need to question their own values and not get dragged down by a culture of doping.”
Galant says that SAIDS will be increasing the quantity of testing not only to cycling but also to other endurance sports like triathlon, running and canoeing.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir