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Suggestion that threshold for legal usage could be reduced

In the wake of the Chris Froome case, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) director general, Olivier Niggli, has suggested that the body could reduce the amount of salbutamol athletes are permitted to take. “Maybe the weakness in the system is that we are being too nice,” he told the Guardian.

Athletes are allowed a maximum of 1600 micrograms of salbutamol over 24 hours, with no more than 800mg in a 12-hour period.

Froome’s test at last year’s Vuelta a Espana suggested he had taken more than this, but after assessing the evidence Wada eventually concluded that the result was, “not inconsistent with therapeutic dosages.”

Questions have consequently been raised about the accuracy of the salbutamol test and Ken Fitch, the sports scientist responsible for Wada’s salbutamol regulations, has been among those pressing Wada to change its rules.

Wada responded to the criticism earlier this week by defending the test, pointing out that breaching the threshold does not constitute a failed test, but is instead merely a trigger for further investigation.

“Unlike most substances, given the variables that exist with salbutamol depending on conditions specific to each case, the rule is designed to afford athletes found to have exceeded the threshold with the opportunity to prove how it has occurred and justify proper therapeutic use.”

But while the test is likely to remain the same, Niggli suggests that Wada may reduce the amount of salbutamol athletes are permitted to take before needing a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

“Maybe the finger is being pointed in the wrong direction – and maybe what needs to be done is to point the finger at how much we allow athletes to take and maybe be more restrictive,” he said.

“Maybe we need to be tougher and say: ‘You are going to have to take less, otherwise you need a TUE.’”

Wada’s director of science, Dr Olivier Rabin, said that the current 800mg per 12-hour limit could be considerably reduced.

“It is certainly a question we need to raise,” he said. “Some asthma experts say we should reduce it to 500 or 600. I think it is important to allow some dosage which are used by the vast majority of athletes – maybe 200 to 400 per day – but the point we are debating is very legitimate.”

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