- Planetary alignment peaks with celestial show this weekend
- UK fighters escort Pakistan plane to airport, two arrests
- Arizona jury foreman says believed Jodi Arias was abused
- Judge rules against 'America's toughest sheriff' in racial profiling lawsuit
- Stockholm calmer but violence spreads outside Swedish capital |
Tough rules reining in equestrian doping
LONDON (Reuters) - The equestrian doping scandal at the 2008 Olympics was a rude awakening for top officials in the sport but it has also led to tough new regulations they hope will ensure a clean London Games for horses and riders.
"It was an extraordinary wake-up call," Lisa Lazarus, general counsel for governing body Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), told Reuters.
Six of the 20 Olympic doping cases in Beijing four years ago involved horses. A Norwegian rider lost his medal and several others were ejected from the Games.
Serious cases in Athens in 2004 that saw the German showjumping team and an Irish showjumper stripped of gold medals had already put pressure on the sport to change when the 2008 scandal emerged.
"We knew we had to have a major overhaul of the system and, with the help of all our stakeholders and renowned international experts, we addressed the science and ethics of drug use in the years following," FEI general secretary Ingmar De Vos told Reuters.
To oversee that work the FEI brought in Lazarus, a lawyer with long experience dealing with doping issues in an entirely different sport - the NFL in the U.S.
"We decided to ... adopt rules that were more similar to the world anti-doping code for human athletes," Lazarus said.
That meant a two-year ban for positive doping tests as of 2010. But because horses cannot consent to what is done to them, the authorities ban many more substances for them than they do for humans.
There are also strict rules in place on medication but the FEI decided that since there can be differences in how long it takes medicine to leave a horse's bloodstream, the governing body would adopt a more lenient and calibrated approach to violations.
"(A ban for medication) can be anywhere up to two years but a first time for horse and athlete, it will usually be a minimal sanction unless there is some proof or evidence that it really was done to enhance performance or to cheat," Lazarus said.
A second violation is more serious and a third could lead the FEI to look seriously at a lifetime suspension.
"There is doping, which is cheating. And then there are medication violations which are not necessarily cheating but are about giving medication too close to competition," said Will Connell, leader of the British Olympic equestrian team.
"When I say medication, I mean medication a human athlete would take quite happily."
If the medication rules applied to human athletes, he said, they would be penalized for taking ibuprofen on a competition morning.
Coupled with the tougher rules, the FEI has launched significantly more random testing along with an education blitz, with a banned substances database that is available as an iPad or Android app, De Vos said.
The education campaign is a global one, particularly given the FEI wants to promote equestrian sports internationally and that many developing countries are gaining enough per capita wealth to make competing at the top level feasible.
Education can help stop cases that stem from ignorance rather than a desire to cheat.
Four of the 2008 cases involved a single substance - a chilli pepper derivative called capsaicin that can create hypersensitivity and also have a numbing effect.
A horse with a hyper-sensitizing substance on its legs would feel extraordinary pain if it knocked a pole and would therefore jump much more carefully.
"There's certainly a strong possibility ... that a lot of it was just not sufficient education about what was prohibited and what was not. All of the riders who tested positive claimed they put it on the horse's back," Lazarus said.
The education effort starts young. The FEI and its national bodies have begun testing at junior level, taking care to explain to young riders what they are doing and why.
There is also an anonymous tip line that allows competitors to report suspected doping but these are checked carefully to prevent malicious accusations.
There are real signs of progress. Lazarus said while they are still seeing instances of doping, most are in endurance or driving rather than in the Olympic disciplines of eventing, dressage and showjumping.
"I feel very optimistic but I'm not going to jinx myself by saying we're going to have a clean Games. But that is certainly our goal," said Lazarus.
However, the shadow of past scandals hangs heavy even now.
Cian O'Connor, the Irish showjumper who lost his gold in Athens, will compete in the London Games.
He was called up to replace Denis Lynch, dropped after his horse was found to be hypersensitive at a competition ahead of the Olympics.
Lynch was one of the riders kicked out in Beijing for using capsaicin.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this