HGH Testing May Be Difficult to Implement
February 26, 2010
Lance Pugmire of the LA Times reports on the latest development in the anti-doping world regarding a new test capable of detecting human growth hormone in blood samples. Early this week it was announced that a British rugby player had tested positive for the previously undetectable banned substance. However, while promising, the jury is still out as to whether the test will make its way to the North American sports world any time soon.
Yet, as the NFL and Major League Baseball push to institute blood-testing programs to unearth HGH users, how Newton dealt with his positive result is unlikely to be repeated any time soon in the U.S., where the test is not automatically accepted by American athletes — and their advisors — as indisputable proof.
“This guy [Newton] just said, ‘OK, you caught me,’ but a major league baseball player will never do that,” said Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) who was briefly imprisoned for distributing performance-enhancing drugs to world-class athletes, including sprinter Marion Jones, boxer Shane Mosley and the personal trainer of baseball slugger Barry Bonds.
“I know the anti-doping authorities are painting this as a big victory, but this doesn’t prove the test is reliable and valid,” Conte said. “That will only occur in a court of law, after the player, supported by a team of scientists and lawyers, takes his turn.”
Nevertheless, authorities such as World Anti-Doping Agency Director General David Howman assessed Newton’s positive (secured by the United Kingdom Anti-Doping agency) as a reason for the world’s sporting bodies to increase blood testing — especially out of competition — to catch those who have “been using this substance with no impunity for a number of years.”
The NFL this year told its players union of its interest in testing for HGH.
“Our position is that HGH blood testing has advanced to the point where we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “Blood work is part of our players’ annual physical. We do have mandatory blood testing already.”
An NFL Players Assn. representative has said “there’s no reason” to implement blood testing at this time, but Aiello said a request by the league to do so can be done “between now and training camp,” in advance of collective-bargaining sessions, with the opportunity to have testing in place before the 2010 season.
“The argument that there’s no longer a valid test no longer holds water,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of WADA’s prohibited list. “There’s now a positive, the test is commercially produced. There’s no excuses to hide from testing anymore, and the pressure is on all sports leagues to implement blood testing.
“The fact is there’s a way to detect HGH now and even if lawyers try to pick apart at it, or people say they didn’t take it, we can now find out. This is the wake-up call.”
This is great news for the sports world as a whole – especially the Olympic movement – but we’re probably a long way from seeing its impact on the sport of MMA (or boxing for that matter).
The current testing standards employed by most commissions range anywhere from average to woefully inadequate (depending on who you ask). Critics claim the limited breadth and frequency of the testing gives savvy cheaters enough time to cycle off most of the higher end drugs. Thus, the entire testing system would need a complete overhaul before an HGH test could even be implemented; and that says nothing about, at this point, the questionable legitimacy of the testing results.
So, what might need to happen, exactly, before HGH is testable in MMA? First, and foremost, the industry as a whole would need to fully commit to ridding combat sports of performance enhancing drugs; without buy-in from the commissions and biggest promotions, nothing will happen.
Then, from an operational perspective, you’d likely need a global body to organize, coordinate, and implement the testing. The financial implications of that, of course, are quite steep: testing isn’t cheap, especially when you consider the frequency with which fighters, who train all over the world, would have to submit in order to ensure their clean form. Moreover, who is going to pay for that, and why?
Lastly, the issue of compliance is also important; as much as the commissions/promotions would need to buy-in, so would the fighters. There would need to be a little bit of a culture change in the way people in the industry not only submit for testing, but handle those that don’t.