Tainted meat? "We've heard that one before" say WADA

Plastic residues can indicate but not prove blood doping, official concedes

by Mark Appleton   October 14, 2010  

Alberto Contador

Although he does have a Twitter account, Alberto Contador is not what you might call a prolific tweeter. So when he tweeted yesterday: “Now more than ever...’Where there is a will, there is a way’” a few heads were no doubt scratched in trying to fathom what exactly, he meant.

Perhaps the answer lies in statements made yesterday in Montreal by World Anti Doping Agency officials. WADA effectively said “We’ve heard it all before” in reference to the Contador camp’s insistence that clenbuterol entered his system through the consumption of contaminated meat.

“It’s been raised before, it’s been heard in a couple of cases and rejected,” WADA’s director general David Howman told journalists at the anti-doping agency’s headquarters.

“The issue is, can you prove it? It’s a pretty hard thing to prove that is where it comes from. The tribunal will make a decision and I’m comfortable with that.”

WADA is paying close attention to the case, which is currently in the hands of the UCI, and appears keen to ensure that the investigative process is not unduly lengthy, citing the Floyd Landis case as unacceptably drawn out.

“It took a year to set the Landis hearing up the first time around,” Howman, told reporters. “If we were concerned about the results management system and that there was procrastination we can take it straight to CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport] and say: ‘this is wrong’.

“The issue for us is when will they have a hearing? At some stage somebody is going to have to say, ‘here is the hearing date’.”

Another possible interpretation of Contador’s enigmatic tweet is that he was buoyed or, conversely, possibly even angered by the comments of Olivier Rabin, WADA’s science director. Rabin spoke about the second issue the Spaniard may have to address: that of the presence of plastic residues in his system which could be deemed to be suggestive of autologous blood doping.

“There are residues. We’re sure about this at that level, that is a scientific fact,” said Rabin. “How you connect that to doping is the question.

“Today, we cannot make a 100 percent connection between high plastic residues to ‘You are doped.’ That is something we are working on.”

Rabin said that it is possible for residues to enter the body via wholly innocent means including the use of plastic bidons or plastic food wrapping materials.

“When there are high plastic residues, we get some indications that this is very likely related to transfusions,” he said. “But we need to do a little more work to see whether this link is 100 percent.

“Because it’s not fully validated, we can use this as an indication but don’t use it as a standard of proof. We cannot be 100 percent sure it was a transfusion, other explanations are possible.”

Contador’s A and B samples have both tested positive for clenbuterol for which there is no minimum threshold and no acceptable excuse in terms of its presence in the system of an athlete.

The UCI has however stated: “This case required further scientific investigation before any conclusion could be drawn.”

That investigation should be completed around now. The UCI president Pat McQuaid  suggested at the start of this month that the process should take "eight to 10 days".