Sports Council defends drug-testing procedures
The Irish Sports Council (ISC) has stoutly defended its drug-testing procedures, which have come in for heavy criticism after a Kerry footballer was detained until after midnight this week in order to produce a sample.
"Managers can opt to have their players tested before training starts, we have put that in writing in our agreement with the GAA last spring," said Dr Una May, director of the ISC's anti-doping unit.
"Testing traditionally takes place at the end of training sessions in order to avoid disrupting athletes, but there is no reason why such tests can't take place before they start training, or during it. Managers can decide the timing of it," she said.
May said she did not know if the Kerry management had been given this opportunity, because the tester was abroad and uncontactable yesterday.
"But we will certainly remind our testers to be proactive on this issue," she added.
It took the player over three hours to produce a sample when he was randomly selected for testing after training in Tralee on Tuesday night.
Being detained until after midnight once again raised the thorny issue of GAA players, who are amateur, being subjected to the same stringent anti-doping policy as professional athletes.
May said delays in giving urine samples are inevitable.
"It is a matter of letting nature take its course. Delays are regrettable, but inevitable sometimes," she said.
One obvious solution to the problem of delays would be blood testing, which the ISC started carrying out last autumn. But May indicated that GAA players are unlikely to be subjected to blood testing until next year at the earliest.
"We need to have a strong blood testing system in place and, at present, we are focusing it on endurance and 'high risk' sports. The GAA is not one of those," she said.
The GAA signed up to the ISC's anti-doping programme in 2001 because they could no longer get government funding without it and it is also now a compulsory condition of the players' individual grants.
It started with post-match testing in the 2001 championship and out-of-competition testing was introduced in mid-2004. But as team sport participants, GAA players can only be tested at matches or training and are not subjected to random testing at home or work.
The GAA's director of games administration, Feargal McGill, was quick to sympathise with the Kerry player. "It's not uncommon in our sport or most other sports," he said. "The problem is when a player finds it difficult to pass urine. The bottom line is that we're committed to the ant-doping programme."
Kerry were embroiled in one controversial case with the Sports Council when Aidan O'Mahony tested positive for elevated levels of Salbutamol after the 2008 All-Ireland final, but was cleared when its presence was found to be caused by his asthma medicine.
Last year 92 GAA players were tested and no one returned a positive result, but the anti-doping area is rife with hidden dangers and athletes have to be ultra-vigilant about what they eat or take as medicine.
A German sports lab, which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, has just found that 22 of 28 visitors returning from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol, which is on WADA's banned list.
This is believed to be linked to the illegal use of clenbuterol to bulk up livestock in China, and the German lab has cautioned athletes to be particularly cautious about what they eat in China, especially meat.