Doping. In Denmark half of all athletes a sanctioned due to drugs that are not performance enhancing. It's more about creating an image of a clean sport than creating a clean sport," the founder of Anti-Doping Denmark Bengt Saltin says.
The Spirit of Sport
By KLAUS WIVEL
"THE worst thing were judgment of the press," Anders Gotschalk says – a sailor from Charlottenlund, north of Copenhagen, who is dressed an Aston Martin-jacket and who has planted his sunglasses in the hair. On 16 September 2007 he was tested positive for cocaine. "I had taken some at a party a few days beforehand," Anders Gotschalk says. He received two years of quarantine.
This week Weekendavisen looks at the numerous convictions which are given to athletes for substances which even sports federations and anti-doping agencies admit is not performance enhancing. Cocaine is only performance-enhancing if taken within a half hour before the competition.
Hash is actually performance retardant. Yet dozens of athletes around the world receive suspensions because of traces of marijuana and cocaine in their urine. In Denmark alone we have witnessed 22 convictions the past six years.
In 2004, the so-called WAD-code was written which contains a comprehensive list of all the substances that athletes are forbidden to take. Approximately half of all convictions in Denmark since 2004 have been based on substances such as marijuana and cocaine which prominent doctors and anti-doping experts state should not occur on the WADA list.
"Much of what is banned has absolutely no performance enhancing effect," Bengt Saltin says – a physiologist who has tested up to 100.000 samples.
In Denmark, 29 out of 59 cases since 2004 are based on substances such as marijuana, cocaine, sibutramine, ephedrine and glucocorticosteroids, which according to the professor, at best, is of 'questionable' value - at worst, of no value at all.
Bengt Saltin has a significant voice in this matter. The Swedish-born professor co-founded Anti-Doping Denmark the Danish branch of WADA and was the Agency's first chairman.
The professor's opinions are a cause to look at these cases and listen to the athletes who often lose years their not very long career. They lose their income and dominating passion. Their credibility and good name is oftentimes dragged through the dirt by the press.
"The day after I was tested positive the Danish boulevard paper Ekstra Bladet had cleared the front page of sports section," the sailor Anders Gotschalk says.
"It was the first time ever sailing had such a prominent position."
Anders Gotschalk also witnessed how TV2 News sent a news helicopter flying over the Yacht Club Furesøen to take pictures of suspicious boats.
"The chairman of the Sailors Union told the press that what I had done was unforgivable. I thought, dear friend, it's coke. I have not swapped blood with some cyclist."
In two years Donald Gotschalk was not allowed to enter any sports hall. "I could not even have a beer in Hellerup Sailing Club."
The sailor explains that before this episode he thought the doping fight was made to prevent athletes from cheating in sport.
'But who did I cheat?" he asks.
In the months before the ban expired the sailor came under the socalled "whereabouts regulation”. Each day, seven days a week, he had to stay one hour at a certain place which he should inform anti doping authorities about.
"Doping controllers from Anti Doping Denmark came to look at the density of my urine in a small telescope. It is crazy to spend so much money on someone who is merely taken for coke,"Anders Gotschalk says.
Today the sailor views the whole episode as a farce. 'It is just a shame that it was me who played the leading role.”
PROFESSOR Bengt Saltin says that WADA has clouded the efforts to combat doping. Today he strongly distances himself from the work that takes place both nationally and internationally when it comes to the struggle for a 'clean sport'.
»Anti-Doping Work today is more concerned in dealing with drugs that have no effect on the performance."
That it has come thus far the professor attributes to the three statutes in the so-called WAD-code from 2004. At least two of the three rules must apply if a substance is to be banned.
The first two statutes are about banning substances that can are performance-enhancing or health damaging. But the third is the most controversial: WADA wishes to ban substances that are contrary to the “spirit of sport”.
This lofty concept is the reason why dozens of athletes each year are being sanctioned with serious career damaging and emotional consequences. This is where substances such as cocaine and marijuana come into the picture. They are contrary to 'spirit of sport' and the Olympic ideal of 'a healthy soul in a healthy body'.
Since athletes are to act as so-called 'role models' for young people WADA tests for marijuana, although it is performance-retardant – and ban athletes who clearly did not take cocaine to improve themselves in their sport.
There is no WADA-law against athletes taking these substances when not in competition, but the problem is that the substances can be detected in the blood for days.
Certain substances in WAD code are equipped with a limit but this limit does not exist for marijuana and cocaine. Here even tiny traces can produce a ban. As laboratories get a hold of more and more advanced equipment, they can detect smaller and smaller quantities in athletes' blood.
The most spectacular case came in 2007 when the Swiss tennis player Martina Hingis tested positive in Wimbledon for a very small and obviously ineffective dose of cocaine in her blood. She said that she has no idea how it entered the body and that she is "100 percent" innocent. But that did not stop the International Tennis Federation in giving her a penalty of two years. As a consequence the 27-year-old tennis player ended her career which among other things brought her five Grand Slam titles.
According Bengt Saltin it is hypothetically possible that an unsuspecting human can consume cocaine in a diluted form for example in a drink.
It is estimated that up to one quarter of all cases worldwide are based on substances that probably has no effect on sports performance.
"It is not the task of Anti Doping Denmark to educate the athletes in their social behavior. Ingestion of cocaine and marijuana belongs in a civil - not a sport’s - court, "says Bengt Saltin.
In January 2008 the volleyball player Daniel Thomas tested positive for cocaine after the Danish volleyball finals. Daniel Thompson played for the club Marienlyst in Fyn and he was at the time at the Danish national team. The volleyball player was on the verge of having a career abroad.
He stats that he has no idea how he had obtained cocaine in his body. He has a suspicion that he might have ingested it accidentally during a party the weekend before because his pupils had swollen and he had sore head the day after.
Daniel Thomsen stated innocence is totally irrelevant. In WADA the rule of strict liability applies meaning that the athlete should be punished whether he or she has og has not ingested the banned substance deliberately and whether the substance was taken in order to improve the performance on the track.
As Jesper Frigast Larsen, Olympic and Elite Sports Manager of Danish Sports Federation, told Fyn’s Stiftstidende in February 2008 in a comment on the Daniel Thomsen case: "It is our impression that in doping cases with cocaine and marijuana it is all about partying. But the hammer hits just as hard."
When athletes get banned they are prohibited in performing any kind of prohibited sports. Three months after the quarantine was in force Daniel Thompson played two soccer games for a club which plays at one of Denmark's lowest ranks. Some opponents complained and the matter came before DIF’s doping tribunal which demanded that Daniel Thomsen's two-year quarantine should begin again, starting on the day he played the last football game.
The volleyball player avoided the sentence but only because there weren’t any rules that took the situation into account. There is today. But Funen Football Association sanctioned the soccer club by to lose both matches and demanded a payment of 1.000 kroner.
The volleyball player who recently has served his sentence does not understand why it is forbidden to practice any form of organized sports. "It's not good for anyone," he says.
For athletes who have smoked marijuana the risk is even greater because it can be detected in the blood for a longer time than cocaine. Also here there have been several potentially career damaging judgments:
The American basketball player André Heard who played for the Denmark masters Bakken Bears tested positive for marijuana in 2007. He was described as one of the 'key players', but was - in addition to receiving a ban on three months - fired from his team.
Bakken Bears' sporting director Michael Piloz said then that the use of such substances was not in line with the club's "elitist attitudes". André Heard had to go back to America.
In November 2007 the boxer Christian Bladt also tested positive for marijuana. At first the Danish Professional Boxing Confederation DPBF gave him an incredibly harsh penalty of a two year ban. The Danish paper Berlingske Tidende speculated whether Christian Bladt was being punished for having broken with the boxing promoter Mogens Palle whose interests DPBF were supposed to serve. A two-year-ban would have terminated the then 32-year-old former European master's career.
However after criticism from the Danish Sports Confederation and Anti Doping Denmark, the ban was sharply reduced. He ended up getting three months.
The same was given to the ice hockey player Torben Schultz after a test in November 2004 found traces of marijuana in his urine. He was immediately fired from his team Herning Blue Fox. The 35-year-old former midfielder initially chose to end his career, but returned to a new club after the three-month quarantine was served.
'The rule is clear," chairman of the Anti Doping Denmark Jens Evald says.
"Maybe it is not performance enhancing to take cocaine and marijuana, but it is forbidden," he continues.
"You are responsible, buddy, for what you put into your head. Do not smoke any marijuana a week before you riding the Tour de France. If you are caught, it's out."
Dr. jur. and professor Jens Evald does not believe that there currently exists available methods from which to accurately tell if cocaine or hash is taken outside of competition or inside.
“As they are now the rules are easy to administer and we have no methods to prove whether it was performance enhancing when they took it," he says.
The chairman explains that the rule of marijuana was introduced to the WADA list as a result of a domestic U.S. fight against drugs.
“The U.S. is 'tough on drugs'. There are not many presidents who wishes to a policy of reducing the fight against narcotics," he says.
WADA was created in 1999 and receives 25 million dollars annually. They finance 35 laboratories around the world and makes about 200,000 tests each year. Anti-doping work has become a major industry. Anti Doping Denmark alone has received 2,5 million dollars from the Danish state this year.
The purpose of WADA was to harmonize doping rules and manage the list of banned substances.
Professor Bengt Saltin believes that anti-doping agencies 'today are more committed to ensuring an image of a clean sport than to ensure a clean sport. They live off the money they get in through sport."
The highly influential political spokesman of the Social Democratic Party Henrik Sass Larsen is appalled by the information that has emerged in Weekendavisen’s articles about WADA and the anti-doping fight.
"No one would have put up with it within civil justice if there had been as much uncertainty about the science and as many flaws in the administration of justice as there is in sport. We would have impeached a long time ago, if we were allowed to behave in politics, as they behave in the anti-doping and sports federations," he says.
Henrik Sass Larsen promises to send a 'shower of questions' to the Minister of Culture Per Stig Møller and Minister of Justice Lars Barfoed.
"It seems that it has become more important to maintain the anti-doping and sporting associations than to protect the athletes. It is as if organizations have taken the power from the athletes whose rights they were supposed to manage," says Henrik Sass Larsen.
"We must seriously consider whether it under the present circumstances even makes sense for the Danish government to keep putting money into this," the political spokesman continues.
WE will conclude the article with the story of a squash player from Copenhagen. On 8 January 2008 Thomas Rønn was tested positive for cocaine after an elite match between Herlev Squash Club and Copenhagen Squash Club. Penalty: Two years of quarantine.
"I did not take cocaine to become a better squash player. I had been a bartender for many years and had an abuse. My sport was the only thing that kept me afloat," he explains today.
"When I lost the possibility of playing squash, I seriously fell into a hole for a long time."
Thomas Rønn does not understand why such a “midget” like him who plays such a peripheral sport must be sanctioned as hard as a professional athlete who earns millions on cheating. "They catch the wrong people," he says.
Read previous articles on WADA and mountain rider Michael Rasmussen at:
www.weekendavisen.dk / doping