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Updated: WADA denies that it is considering introducing minimum threshold for clenbuterol

Meeting next week in Montreal will discuss situation but no decision will be made

The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) has deniedreports that a meeting next week will decide whether a minimum threshold should be introduced in order for an athlete to test positive for clenbuterol, the banned substance for which Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive during last year’s race. The agency says that while clenbuterol will be on the agenda at the meeting, there are currently no plans to introduce such a threshold.

Although clenbuterol is not a substance naturally found in the human body, it is illegally used in some countries by farmers to promote muscle mass growth in livestock. A number of athletes, including Contador himself, have successfully argued that their positive tests for clenbuterol resulted from them having eaten contaminated food.

The Saxo Bank-SunGard rider was cleared of wrongdoing earlier this year by the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, although that decision has been appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by both WADA and the UCI, with the case set to be heard in early August, after the Tour de France.

Contador, who last month won the Giro d'Italia, confirmed at the weekend that he plans to defend his Tour de France title. Should the appeal go against him, however, he faces being stripped of that 2010 win and the results he has achieved since returning from suspension earlier this year.

Last week, Mexico’s soccer federation claimed that positive tests for clenbuterol for five members of the national football team were also due to food contamination. That country, along with China, are seen as the two places where athletes are most at risk of innocent consumption of the substance due to it being present in the food chain.

However, operations in Spain against the supply of performance enhancing drugs have resulted in the seizure of clenbuterol, among other substances, indicating that some athletes are using it to gain an illegal advantage.

Newsweek was among the media sources that reported that next week’s WADA meeting in Montreal could result in the agency establishing a threshold for clenbuterol beyond which athletes would no longer be able to employ a defence that they had consumed the substance innocently.

"I've personally reviewed several of these cases and I think we've got a way forward that makes a lot of sense and we want to discuss with our experts," explained WADA science director Olivier Rabin on Tuesday at a symposium held by the agency in the Italian capital, Rome.

Rabin added that the forthcoming meeting in Montreal might suggest that a minimum threshold be established. "That could be one of their recommendations," he acknowledged. "You may say there is a value above which we know it's doping. There may be a value under which we would say you need further investigation, so it could be classified as an atypical finding.

“Or it could be classified as a typical finding which means it's a result that deserves further consideration in a certain context, including previous results from the athlete or future results from the athlete," he added.

Even if changes were suggested, the proposals would have to be passed at WADA’s board meeting in September and would not come into effect until September and therefore will have no influence on the outcome of the Contador case.

In April, the German anti-doping agency advised athletes from that country to avoid eating meat in Mexico or China to minimise the risk of clenbuterol entering their system.

Speaking about the forthcoming world swimming championships in Shanghai, Rabin said that the event organisers as well as that sport’s governing body, FINA, should ensure that meat meant for athletes is rigorously checked beforehand, as happened at the 2008 Olympcis in Beijing.

"Things went extremely well because they have taken appropriate measures to make sure that the food was well controlled before it was given to the athletes," he stated. "So there are ways and means to prevent this kind of risk of meat contamination."

The Rome symposium focused on issues surrounding hormonal doping, which Rabin described as “constant work," saying, "We always need to look to the future and have constant research."

He added that by next year’s Olympic Games in London, a test should be in place to detect human growth hormone as late as ten days after it has been used, compared to one or two days at present.

WADA is also considering establishing a threshold for caffeine, which has been off the International Olympic Committee’s banned list since 2003.

"At this point we don't go beyond monitoring it," revealed Rabin, adding, "There is no plan today to include caffeine on the prohibited list."

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, WADA said:

"Following current media interest in relation to clenbuterol, WADA wishes to clarify the following:

1. Clenbuterol is a prohibited substance and there is no threshold under which this substance is not prohibited.

2. At present there is no plan to introduce a threshold level for clenbuterol.

3. It is possible that under certain circumstances the presence of a low level of clenbuterol in an athlete sample can be the result of food contamination. However, each case is different and all elements need to be taken into account.

4. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, result management of cases foresees the opportunity for an athlete to explain how a prohibited substance entered his/her body.

5. Next week, WADA laboratory experts will meet, as they do regularly, and amongst others issues will discuss the situation with regards to clenbuterol. No decision will be taken at this meeting and any recommendation will then be reviewed and discussed at the WADA Health, Medical and Research Committee in view of the preparation of the 2012 List.

6. The power to take a decision and to adopt the 2012 List is vested to the WADA Executive Committee, composed equally of the Sport Movement and Governments, that will meet in September.

WADA will refrain from making any further comment regarding clenbuterol until the review process has been completed."


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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