Monday 19 March 2018

Colm Keys: O'Sullivan case shines a light on the supplement culture that pervades county scene

O’Sullivan: Suspension. Photo: SPORTSFILE
O’Sullivan: Suspension. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There's a striking feature in the full reasoned decision on the case of Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan's positive test for the banned substance Methylhexaneamine (MHA). And that is the list of the supplements he had taken in the 14 days before last year's league final, reflecting the additional consumption of the modern-day inter-county footballer on top of a balanced diet.

Whey Protein, Pharmaton, Pre Fuel, Caffeine Tablets, Caffeine Gel, Vitamin C, Krill Oil Magnesium were all integrated into O'Sullivan's diet in the two-week build-up to the game, as per the list supplied to the Sports Council in conjunction with the sample provided.

If ever there was evidence required as to the role that supplements and nutrition now play in preparation for inter-county games, it is provided in this extensive list, the range of nutrients taken described by the authors as an example of "poly-pharmacy".

So much for Sport Ireland's recommendation against the use of sports supplements and their belief that "a correct dietary and nutritional regime will provide all the potential benefits of sports supplements". So much too for their belief that with "the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) principle of strict liability, elite athletes are opening up the possibility of inadvertent positive tests by taking supplements".

It is advice well heeded in hindsight now given that a caffeine tablet, Falcon Labs Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech, the player took at half-time in the league final contained MHA which registered as a positive test.

An apparent aversion to caffeine gel, provided by the Kerry nutritionist, led the player to purchasing the tablet form instead, on the advice of a friend he knew from a gym, in the belief that they were no different.

And on the label and in online searches he conducted about the product, a key component in his case to have an initial seven-month suspension challenged, there was no evidence of the banned substance in question.

But he did not consult the Kerry nutritionist on his alternative choice, nor did he take the advice on the label that it was "mandatory that the product should not be taken without consulting a physician". These were taken as 'negatives' by the committee in weighing up the case against the positives.

Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech is advertised as a fat-burning product in addition to an energy booster.

Read more: 'Their bodies were misshapen, there's something grotesque about it' - Joe Brolly on the GAA gym culture

The report also sheds further light on the lingering questions to arise from this case, why it took so long to conclude, specifically the time between the temporary lifting of the suspension on July 28 and the engagement of the GAA's anti-doping committee in early January.

During this time Sport Ireland sought to clarify matters relating to the internet search O'Sullivan conducted in seeking information about the product he had purchased. They also sought an unopened tub of the product to have it analysed in comparison with some of the loose tablets left over from the original tub.

These extensive searches were not concluded until the Cologne laboratory confirmed that the level of MHA found in Mr O'Sullivan's sample was consistent with Mr O'Sullivan taking one tablet of Falcon Labs Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech at half-time prior to the test.

Sport Ireland's research indicated that there appeared to be two versions of the product available. One listed MHA as an ingredient, the other didn't.

They found that both versions were available on the internet and there were a number of websites which indicated Falcon Labs Oxyburn Pro Superthermotech did contain MHA. Sport Ireland were able to establish that the product was contaminated and that O'Sullivan bore "no significant fault or negligence".

The uneasy relationship that counties, more so than the governing body, have with anti-doping guidelines is further illustrated in this case.

O'Sullivan claimed he received little or no information about anti-doping guidelines since his arrival on to the Kerry squad months earlier though acknowledged that he was advised to consult if he was considering taking anything outside the provided list.

The committee noted "confusion" over the flow of information to the player.

The main focus of his case was that he had not been properly educated and, once again, the GAA committee that heard the case, headed by Mr Justice Adrian Colton who was assisted by former All-Ireland-winning Dublin football manager Pat O'Neill and former GAA president Nickey Brennan, were clear on the anti-doping responsibilities that county boards, managements and players should know, just as they had been in the previous case two years ago.

In the modern game, where supplement use is clearly prevalent, there is no excuse.

Irish Independent

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