London - Athletes should not be able to explain away positive tests by blaming them on dietary supplements or contaminated foodstuffs, the IOC's top anti-doping official has told Reuters.
“The athlete's strict liability covers everything. If you eat normally and live normally you don't test positively, and the vast majority don't,” said Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's medical committee.
“Of the 5,000 tests we took at the Olympics in China there were around ten positive tests,” added the Swede, who is also the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) vice-president.
Ljungqvist was speaking in the wake of a warning about supplements last month from Sweden's Sports Council.
In a statement on its website (www.rf.se), the council warned elite athletes that such products were best avoided as there was no way of knowing what went into them.
“It's an aggressive and unregulated market,” Ljungqvist said in a telephone interview, adding that such supplements were in most cases unnecessary. “If someone is suffering from a deficiency then OK, but it should be diagnosed”.
“There are those who live in bad conditions temporarily. They can possibly supplement a deficient diet, but adding it to a regular normal diet is like flushing money down the toilet”.
Ljungqvist advised athletes to contact their doctor if they felt they needed supplements, saying it was the only way to be sure that they didn't fall foul of anti-doping legislation.
“If you get something on prescription then it's part of a group of medicines that go through very strict and rigorous controls. If you buy them over the counter there's not the same kind of rigorous control”.
The former high jumper, who represented his country at the 1952 Olympics, said the principle of “strict liability” would continue to apply to all athletes, not just with regard to supplements but also to regular foodstuffs.
In several high-profile cases, athletes have blamed positive tests on contaminated food.
Alberto Contador of Spain tested positive for a small amount of the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol on his way to victory in last year's Tour de France, his third win in the sport's most important race, but blamed the result on contaminated meat.
Last month his provisional one-year doping ban was lifted by the Spanish cycling federation on appeal with local media reporting the RFEC could not prove intent or negligence on the part of Contador, who has always denied deliberate wrongdoing.
The International Cycling Union has reserved the right to study the reasons behind the decision before giving an opinion.
Ljungqvist said everything athletes ingest – including allegedly contaminated food – is their responsibility.
“Elite athletes today are educated professionals and, like all other professionals, they have a responsibility to know what is acceptable and they must learn to behave as professionals.”
“The first time I heard of a case where an (athlete) stated that he tested positive because he had eaten contaminated meat was in the beginning of the eighties, so this is an old story.”
“History is full of elite athletes who, when they test positive or otherwise are charged with doping offences, show a total lack of understanding, and say: 'I've never had this' or 'I've never taken anything'“.
“The world is full of athletes who have later succumbed and admitted: 'Yes, I did it'. This is notorious. Unfortunately, what athletes say in most cases cannot be trusted.”
Ljungqvist said WADA could exercise its independent right to appeal against a national or international association's decision to acquit athletes who claim contaminated foodstuffs caused them to test positive.
“WADA can always appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and their decision must be adhered to. WADA are always there and can always appeal.”
“WADA doesn't take its own decisions. (We appeal) when we are of the opinion that the wrong decision has been taken. We can also make a complaint even if no-one else does.” – Reuters