14th FINA Shanghai World Championships: A Doping Risk For Athletes?

Column by Steven V. Selthoffer, senior European columnist

SHANGHAI, China, March 28. RECENT travel advisory warnings have been issued for athletes traveling to China in the EU and the German national anti-doping agency, NADA confirmed in a Feb. 16 press release that 22 European cyclists had tested positive for Clenbuterol in February after returning from a trip to China.

The nutritional food supply chain contamination issues are not just limited to Clenbuterol in cooking oils and meat production in China. But, reports of other banned substances such as veterinary EPO have surfaced from Asian fish stocks in European television reports.

The issues are not necessarily a Chinese problem, but food contamination is reportedly widespread in Asia according to anti-doping experts.

The 14th FINA World Aquatic Championships are scheduled to be in Shanghai, CHN, from July 16-31, 2011.

What is the Risk for Athletes in Shanghai?
The question is: How safe are the athletes? How safe is the food?

There will be no "Olympic-type" village where all of the food was specially prepared and/or imported like there was for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Numerous television reports in Europe and around the world prior to the Beijing Games confirmed how the food preparation was monitored from garden to training table, with numerous checks and balances installed at all control and distribution points, successfully preventing any accidental contamination in the nutritional food supply chain.

With possibly 70 percent to 80 percent of the athletes/swimmers competing in Shanghai most likely to participate in the upcoming London 2012 Olympic Games, have they taken the same precautions for the same reasons as they did in Beijing? If not, why not?

Contamination Risks Are Known
Prior to the Beijing Games in 2008, the risks were known. The risks were significant. The same risks exist today. Consequently, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee initiated a top level executive plan and installed a world-class monitoring and safety system throughout the entire food chain acquisition and distribution process.

Has FINA done the same now?

In light of the recent contamination/"doping" events in China, as of this date, what precautions has FINA taken? How is FINA coping with the food, venue, hotel, restaurant suppliers? What have they done to warn or advise teams and athletes? Have they independently tested anything?

If not, why not?

With approximately 12 months to go before the London 2012 Olympic Games at World Championships in Shanghai, there are a number of scenarios that deserve consideration.

A Positive Doping Test for Clenbuterol?
If one were to occur, it will all depend on who will test positive inadvertently from contamination in the nutritional food supply chain and from what country.

The second consideration is how many athletes? Each scenario results in different responses and considerations from different countries with one year to go before London 2012.

What is necessary, is to plan for and to prepare against, any would be catastrophic event such as the 22 European cyclists faced upon returning from China last month with 22 testing positive for Clenbuterol.

Hopefully, that is a scenario that will never happen again.

But, testing positive for Clenbuterol has happened already this year to an entire group of cyclists and others. And if anyone does test positive, it won't be the athlete's fault.

Develop a Plan and Take Every Precaution
It is time for FINA to publicly state and to make sure every necessary precaution is being taken to warn the teams and athletes about the health and nutritional food supply chain issues.

Extensive precautions were taken prudently before the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The same precautions for the same reasons should be taken now.

Shanghai is a great venue and place to host the World Championships. But, in light of recent events, and the comprehensive precautions initiated and promoted by the IOC and BOCOG in the media for the known risks, the athletes should not be exposed to any unnecessary risks one year before the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Every precaution and preventative measure must be taken in advance with independent accountability to ensure that every food preparation area, food supplier and training table is certified 100 percent safe.

Shanghai will be a fantastic World Championships. Let's make sure it is, and place the welfare and safety of the athletes first.

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