New illegal substances fuel sports cheats; China source of new drugs: WADA

Dec 10, 2014, 18:00 IST | AFP

Monaco: A huge number of new illegal substances are fuelling a surge in sports doping and "smarter" testing techniques are needed to catch cheats, according to the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

China is the source of many of the new drugs despite efforts by the Chinese authorities to clampdown, WADA president Craig Reedie told AFP. New allegations of widespread doping in Russia and looming sanctions against the Tour de France winning Astana cycling team have cast a fresh spotlight on international efforts to stop drug cheats.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach called this week for a renewed focus on the "evils" of doping and protection of "clean athletes." Doping could also become a key topic in the election for the presidency of the International Athletic Associations Federation next year.

WADA is introducing a new code with tougher sanctions on January 1. But Reedie said the battle is far from won. "On a very regular basis an enormous number of unknown, untested substances appear on the market," Reedie said in an interview. "The internet is a wonderful, wonderful benefit to mankind but it means you can pick up whatever you want from practically anywhere before we even know that it is on the market."

"The scale of the problem is not getting any smaller," Reedie said. "A lot of it comes from China, for example. We have discussions with the Chinese authorities at the very highest level. They understand the issue, but it is a real struggle for a country to manage that process." WADA could still appeal against a three month ban imposed against Olympic champion Sun Yang who failed a doping test at the national championships in May while the sanction was only announced in November. But Reedie said "The China Anti-Doping Agency is a good one. All the evidence I have is that they take this seriously."

Steroids and erythropoietin (EPO) blood boosters are all produced in backstreet factories in China and other Asian countries, according to experts. New drugs to cover up performance enhancing substances are also being developed.- Drug Ban Doubled - More than 200,000 tests of athletes are reported to the agency each year, with about 1.3percent failing.

But Reedie said all countries must step up efforts. "I really think we need to move on from the standard way of detection which is the analysis of blood and urine. "We need to be smarter, we need to do it better because quite honestly we haven't been able to completely eradicate the problem using the systems that we currently use."

WADA investigators are now looking to see which drug is prevalent in each sport to plan individual campaigns with better targeted testing. From January 1, the WADA code doubles the maximum ban for doping to four years and includes stronger powers to punish coaches who help athletes dope.

There will also be more emphasis on investigations away from drug tests to catch cheats, such as work which caught US cycling champion Lance Armstrong, But many experts predict widespread legal challenges by athletes. "I think there will be some interesting legal debate probably on appeals on some of the terms of the higher sanctions -- the business of intent, what does that actually mean," said Reedie. But he stressed that there were two years of consultations on the code, now backed by China, the United States and all major countries, and that athletes had been at the forefront of calls for tougher punishment.

"Many of them wanted life bans, but that's not proportionate. Four years, that is twice what the maximum was, our advice was that would be proportionate whereas a life ban would probably be challenged in court right away." WADA also backs proposals by countries such as Germany to criminalise doping. But Reedie said there must be no criminal action against athletes. "We are very comfortable with legislation that allows investigations, we are comfortable with legislation that hits at traffickers and allows organisations to deal with the entourage, if they have been wrong. "What we do not want is criminal law in any country to apply to an athlete that would apply for example a custodial sentence."

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