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Union questions put 2011 testing in jeopardy
Question of the Day
Blood testing for human growth hormone is going nowhere fast in the NFL.
Everyone says they want it _ so much so that it was included in the collective bargaining agreement struck between the league and players this summer. That, however, is where any agreement ends.
The odds of implementing tests this season dwindled as the union raised objections to detection methods and scientists dismissed those concerns as invalid.
Testing that was to be in place at the start of the season was delayed while the union tried to gather more information about a blood test that the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is responsible for the data, isn’t willing to provide.
Even if the program does get under way, the fact that the test in question can only detect HGH in a person’s system for about 24 hours means only the sloppiest of dopers would have the chance to get caught.
“Every test has some sort of politics,” said renowned anti-doping scientist Don Catlin, who runs his own lab in the Los Angeles area. “This is the same test they’ve been using all along. It’s not a great test because a great test has more longevity than 24 hours.”
Still, Catlin has no problem with using this particular method _ because there’s nothing better out there _ though he says WADA’s reluctance to turn over data on the seven-year-old test, or to have information about it published in peer-reviewed literature, “is a tough position to justify in this day and age.”
Promoted by both sides as a sign of their commitment to a drug-free game, blood testing for HGH made it into the new contract _ but only if the union agreed to the methods. That hasn’t happened and no meetings are scheduled. Last week, Congress invited the NFL, union and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to Washington to discuss the issue, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet either.
The NFL said it wants to start the testing immediately and is satisfied with the validity of the test, which has been used at the Olympics since 2004. Even with its shortcomings, the league considers the test a good deterrent.
“I’m still hopeful that it can occur,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week. “The testing is there.”
The union, however, wants more scientific information about the test so it can do its own analysis.
One of the key items the union wants to see is what’s known as a population study of the test _ the data from the athletes who were used to originally set thresholds as to what constitutes a positive test. It wants to compare that data to a population study on football players, who the union believes could have naturally HGH levels, above those of other athletes. If a valid population study on football players doesn’t already exist, it could take months, maybe years, to produce.
“That’s a typical kind of excuse you would hear from a defense lawyer,” said WADA legal director Olivier Niggli. “We don’t think that’s true.”
Niggli said the test used by WADA sets the bar for cheating so high that there’s virtually no question an athlete who turns up positive _ no matter the sport _ is breaking the rules.
The union also wants to see the science behind a test that experts say is only expected to produce one false positive for every 10,000 samples taken.
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