In a move that conjures up visions of future Tour de France cyclists looking on longingly at sponsors’ guests, journalists and anyone else not actually riding the race enjoying a morning café at the Village Départ, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) is proposing re-introducing its ban on the use of caffeine in sports, removed six years ago.
John Fahey, a former premier of New South Wales and finance minister in John Howard’s government but now chairman of WADA, made his announcement following the hospitalisation of a high-profile Australian rules football player at the weekend.
Ben Cousins of the AFL side Richmond, a recovering drug addict who has cut an often controversial figure during a career largely spent with the West Coast Eagles, collapsed after suffering an adverse reaction to prescribed sleeping pills that he had taken after a match at the weekend, apparently taken to counter the effects of caffeine tablets he had taken before the game.
Neither substance is currently on WADA’s banned list, and use of both is perfectly legal under Australian law, but the episode has raised concerns in the country about sports players effectively using them as ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’ around matches.
Fahey told the Melbourne newspaper The Age that while use of such substances may be within the letter of the law, in his opinion it went against the spirit of sport.
"In my view it brings the game somewhat into disrepute because there are substances there that have an unknown quality to them and unknown consequences," Fahey explained.
He added that he would be asking WADA’s medical committee to re-examine whether caffeine should appear on the list of banned substances after the ban was removed in 2004. Prior to that, the legal limit for caffeine was 12 microgram/ml in urine, said to be equivalent to around eight cups of espresso.
"Having been taken back off the banned list, it can be put back on," he said, adding: "It will be looked at again in light of what's occurring at the moment."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.