04 November 2008

Hair-loss drug off black list

Athletes who have taken a hair-loss drug could now pull out their remaining strands as the use of the medicine that led to their doping suspensions will be allowed from next year.

A handful of athletes who have taken a hair-loss drug could now pull out their remaining strands as the use of the medicine that led to their doping suspensions will be allowed from next year.

The medicine, finasteride, which is a part of various treatments to slow the process of balding, is on the list of banned substances under the world's anti-doping code. But that will soon become a thing of the past because, from January 1, 2009, the medicine will be taken off the black-list.

Finasteride was put on the list in 2005, not for its effects on achievements, but because it can act as a "masking agent" for performance-enhancing steroids. Progress in scientific research has made laboratories capable of uncovering this masking effect, which incited the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) to lift its ban in an annual reviewing process.

In the past four years, more than a dozen various athletes - from Argentinian tennis player Mariano Hood to Brazilian football star Romario, through to Canadian ice hockey's Jose Theodore - have tested positive. While traces of steroids have been found at the same time in urine from French athletes Nordine Gezzar and Latifa Essarokh, leaving little doubt about their intentions, others had the label of doping user pasted on their heads due to negligence.

Athletes banned because of it now angry
"I have had bad luck," said Monaco bobsled driver Sebastien Gattuso, who was found positive for finasteride in October 2005, some 10 months after it was banned. All the documents he submitted in a bid to prove he used the treatment for four years were insufficient. His infraction was caused by the fact he had not asked for a "Therapeutic Use Exemption" of the medicine, as was demanded by the rules.

Having been suspended for six months by the Anti-doping Committee of Monaco, Gattuso lost any chance of taking part at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. "My parents suffered because of that. My mother reproached herself because she had been the one who recommended me the medicine," said the 37-year-old.

The fact that finasteride was removed from the black-list "proves that it was huge nonsense", he said.

US former world number one Zach Lund was banished from men's skeleton at the 2006 Winter Games after also testing positive for the drug. A medal favourite, Lund initially only received a usual warning from the United States Anti-doping Agency (Usada) and was disqualified from the World Cup qualifications. But Wada appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reluctantly suspended Lund for a year, half of the sanction that was automatically given at the time for such a violation.

In its ruling, however, CAS emphasised the American was "not a cheat". Of the athletes who consider themselves victims of injustice, Wada responded that "as in all other parts of society, everybody has to respect the rules in force at the moment of a certain event".

Finasteride is not the first product removed from the banned list. Caffeine, an object of long debates on its real effects, was eventually taken off the list in 2004. – (Sapa, November 2008)

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Doping boost - all in the mind?




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