As far as performance-enhancing drugs go, Tokyo has a clean record more than a week in. But if the history books are anything to go by – and with changes to testing procedures meaning it could take longer for any positive tests to be announced – this isn’t likely to hold up.
Athletes are under an enormous amount of scrutiny and pressure to perform and gain a competitive advantage. Does this mean that all positive doping tests are deliberate? I don’t believe so.Improved testing measures have increased sensitivities which can detect miniscule traces from contaminants in food and supplements. Theoretically, these substances may not be performance enhancing, but will result in a positive test – intentional or unintentional.
Since 2016, around 30 positive doping cases have been from athletes who have unknowingly ingested a banned substance.
But when the most common first response is denial, it is difficult to distinguish between athletes who have cheated deliberately, and those who have made an innocent mistake.
Either way, I feel sad for athletes. If deliberate – that they need to resort to performance enhancing agents or techniques to get ahead, if unintentional – that it has scarred their career irrespective of whether the test is positive or false positive.
As a pharmacist and former athlete who is still well-connected to the sporting community, it worries me how many athletes and team personnel ‘take a chance’ when purchasing, and consuming, supplements.
This extends to well-meaning loved ones who saw an empty vitamin C container on the kitchen bench and thought they would do the right thing by picking up a new supply at the supermarket – not realising that the first product was batch tested.
On the other hand, there are many athletes who simply don’t risk it and are so paranoid that they avoid drinks at cafes which might have been made in a contaminated blender, or a meal at a local food truck.
Sure, ingredient lists can be difficult to decipher, and the WADA banned list contains nearly 300 banned substances which is updated on an annual basis. It’s a lot for athletes to keep across, on top of their physical, mental and emotional state to ensure peak performance at the peak time. But as Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) reminds athletes, they are solely responsible for all substances found in their body.
Supplements should always be used for their intended purpose. That is, to support a high level of nutrition and to maintain optimum health, such as enhancing your immune system, maintaining gut health or aiding in recovery. They should not be used for a competitive advantage.
So, if athletes choose to supplement their nutrition intake, they should be looking for the lowest possible risk.
Many supplement manufacturers are now taking the step to have their products independently tested and verified by programs like HASTA or Informed Sport, to show they are free from WADA banned substances. Platforms like Batch Tested are part of an athlete’s care team. We give athletes peace of mind knowing that the supplements they take are clean and safe, having undergone independent third-party testing.
With greater education around safe supplementation and more batch tested products available to athletes, I hope that we’ll see fewer positive doping tests and career-ending tragedies. A non-batch tested probiotic or fish oil tablet is simply not worth the risk.
Karen Brown is an award-winning pharmacist, former Queensland Firebird and co-founder of Batch Tested – Australia’s only one-stop shop for the latest batch tested supplements and sports foods.