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You might not be an elite athlete but you probably count yourself as a fairly competitive age-grouper. Did you know that Triathlon is breaking new ground in the war on drugs in sport? The world governing bodies in Triathlon are now targeting age-group competitors for drug testing, not simply elite athletes.

Regardless of your status as an elite or age-group athlete, if you are a member of a national governing body (e.g., Triathlon Australia), and/or compete in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-sanctioned event (e.g., Ironman), you can be tested for any substance on WADA’s prohibited list.

Triathlon Australia’s Anti-Doping Policy

In 2015, for the first time, Triathlon Australia (TA) conducted anti-doping testing on age group athletes at several events. This entailed taking blood and urine samples at the Mooloolaba Triathlon and the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships in Melbourne. The tests were in line with TA’s new Anti-Doping Policy, released on 1 January 2015. Many of you may not even realise that this document exists.

Drug testing in non-professional sports is not new; for example, the Australian Football League (AFL) has occasionally contracted Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) to conduct tests at suburban football matches. With scandals over recent years in athletics, cycling and football, it seems likely that other sports will also get on board to examine their grass roots and explore strategies to develop the integrity of their sport cultures.

Unfortunately, points of uncertainty are likely to emerge for the non-professional (tri)athlete not familiar with drug-testing procedures or how even their own medication management could be breaching the rules.

WADA Prohibited List 2016

How familiar are you with WADA’s list of banned substances?  

I bet many age-group athletes are probably not aware that there are some fairly common medications included in the banned list of substances.

Some of the substances on the list include medications prescribed by doctors to treat not uncommon medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes and blood pressure. Such medications include:

  • Insulin
  • Beta-2 agonists (except therapeutic doses of salbutamol, formoterol and salmeterol)
  • Diuretics

Even some regular over-the-counter cold & flu medications now pose a risk for the competitive age-grouper. For example, the following chemicals, which are common ingredients of cold & flu treatments, are banned during competition:

  • Pseudophedrine
  • Levmetamfetamine

Therapeutic doses of prohibited substances may be acceptable but only if you have applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). For age group athletes, this can be done retrospectively. It will require supporting documentation from your treating doctor.

The overarching principle of the drug-testing policy is to look after the health of the athlete.

Familiarity with drug testing protocol actually helps raise awareness among athletes of the risks of training and racing while on ‘regular’ therapeutic medications. The risks of illicit substances such as anabolic steroids and stimulants are documented (refer to this 2010 research paper by Angell et al. in the British Journal of Sports Medicine for a good overview). The dangerous side effects of EPO/blood doping are well documents in cycling , and the sport recognises the impact this is having on amateur cyclists, too (refer to an article by Kathryn Dyle here).

In contrast, many athletes with common medical problems are ignorant of potential risks associated with exercising while on some medications. For example, beta blockers prescribed for hypertension or heart arrhythmias can impair your temperature regulation during prolonged exercise, predisposing you to dehydration and hyperthermia.

Making sense of policy

I think we are all fine with the intention of WADA and triathlon national sporting bodies to improve the integrity of the sport. However, the implementation of fairly new policy could see some age-group athletes found guilty of drug doping simply because they unwittingly are taking a banned substance, often for genuine therapeutic reasons.

While all athletes are expected to be familiar with the current code, the Anti-Doping Policy is a complex document, more a legal paper full of various “Articles”. It is a tedious read.

Ignorance is no excuse

Age-group athletes, be warned. Page 1 of the Anti-Doping Policy contains a clear warning to athletes and athlete support personnel. These items in the warning stand out:

  • You are responsible for knowing what the anti-doping rule violations are
  • You must find out which substances and methods are prohibited
  • Ignorance is no excuse

Unsure of where to get advice about your medications?

Get the phone App released by WADA. It lets you check the status of chemicals listed on a supplement or medication.

Access ‘Check your Substance’ service. Go to the ASADA website or call 1300 027 232

Talk to your treating doctor.

Additional information 

Formats for testing of age-group fields

According to Susan Lacke at Triathlon.com, a “top three and random” strategy is usually applied to the testing of age-group fields – podium finishers get automatically tested, then half a dozen or so more randomly selected athletes across the field.

“Out-of-competition’ (OOC) testing is generally focussed on elite athletes in the professional field. However, age-group athletes should also now be prepared to have a national sports anti-doping official representative arrive unannounced at their home.

Protocol for OOC testing of age group athletes is very clearly outlined in Triathlon Australia’s Integrity Framework document, which includes the following statements:

“Triathlon Australia will request ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority] to include up to 8 age group athletes in triathlon’s Domestic Testing Pool [DTP]. These athletes will be informed by ASADA of their inclusion in the DPT. Triathlon Australia will provide residential details of the age group athletes to ASADA.”

Author: Kara Gilbert @ KMG Communications

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