UCI unveils No Needle Policy

Needle ban comes in force for start of Giro d'Italia

by Tony Farrelly   May 4, 2011  

Syringe

In a change to UCI rules announced today ahead of the Giro d'ItaliaTeam doctors will no longer be allowed to give riders injections for anything other than a clear medical reason .

Under the UCI's new No Needle Policy it will be against the rules to inject any rider with "medicines or other substances, without a medical indication, that have the objective of artificially improving performance or recovery (vitamins, sugars, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, etc.)."

The new rules are designed above all, says the UCI, to protect the riders' health and are an attempt to reverse what many see as the over medicalisation of the sport - riders hooked up to drips to help them rehydrate and replace vitamins and minerals at the end of a stage – a trend which is seen as being open to abuse and which the UCI contends provides an "open door" to doping.

In a statement announcing the new policy the UCI said it was intended to:

  • eliminate perfusion and injection without medical indication, as these represent an open door to doping;
  • encourage natural physical recovery by rejecting the principle of the automatic recourse to injections;
  • provide doctors with the means to resist pressure from riders or their entourages who seek unjustified treatment, in order to allow them to respect point 6.3 of the Olympic Movement Medical Code: "Athletes’ health care providers (…) must refrain from performing any intervention that is not medically indicated, even at the request of the athletes, their entourage or another health care provider (…)."

Breach of the rules will lead to sanctions against team doctors, teams, and the rider.

The UCI's Medical Commission devised the new rules in collaboration with the International Federation of Rowing Associations (FISA) and the new policy was presented to team doctors at the start of Paris Nice - presumably to save them ordering in any saline drips and needles. The new rules come in to force for the start of the Giro on Saturday and it will be interesting to see what effect they have on the riders and in particular the average speeds for the stages - the likelihood is that deprived of an effective means of delivering fast means of recovery we will see slower speeds, more tired riders and, potentially more mistakes.

Intriguingly the UCI statement announcing the new policy does appear to frown on the use of substances that aid recovery it does not say anything about prohibiting riders from using "vitamins, sugars, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, etc" ingested by means other than injection which should be a green light for sports nutrition companies to come up with more easily digestible forms of, what are after all, natural substances. To be fair, it would be almost impossible to enforce such a ban if it were imposed and it would also in many eyes over-step the mark for many in terms of making riders suffer unnecessarily.

The No Needly Policy certainly sets down a clear marker on medical interventions in professional cycling, it also a logical step in what would appear to be the UCI's attempts to turn the clock back in cycle sport, alongside their banning of race radios, and the less welcome attempts to stifle innovation in bike and equipment design – also in the name of sporting purity.