By Dan Chaiet, Senior Editor – Steroidal.com
The issue of steroids in sports and how to enforce the rules has always been a game of cat and mouse. While new techniques are developed by the governing organizations (such as WADA – the World Anti-Doping Agency), athletes are also always remaining one step ahead in order to maintain an edge in their respective sports. Doping and anabolic steroid use in sports has always existed, and the numbers of athletes that dope in an attempt to gain an edge is staggering in reality when compared to what the majority has been led to believe. In an effort to further curb doping in sports (especially the Olympics), WADA has announced the development of a new procedure and testing system to add to their arsenal of tests. Previous testing methods that have been used (and still are used) involve obtaining a urine or blood sample from the athlete and inspecting it via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry as well as liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry in order to detect any metabolites of known banned substances and/or anabolic steroids. The main drawbacks of this system was that it was very easy to cheat and fool. Masking agents could be utilized, and the most effective method of all, the use of a brand new designer steroid that would be kept secret.
The new system utilizes a more indirect method of detection and monitoring. John Fahey, WADA president, has announced a system whereby a urine test designed to monitor baseline readings of an athlete’s levels of various endogenous chemicals would be recorded on a regular basis and added to the athlete’s biological passport. The biological passport for an athlete is an electronic record for an individual athlete’s biological markers over a particular period of time. Both blood and urine samples will be utilized to profile athletes in an effort to detect any changes from these baseline biological markers. This system is somewhat far-reaching, as it will be able to detect the changes in an athlete’s biomarkers rather than the direct detection of any substances used. This means that this would theoretically be able to detect all kinds of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), not just anabolic steroids or other commonly utilized PEDs. It should be made entirely clear, however, that there are some limitations and drawbacks with this system that have been raised as concerns by others within the sports world.
The number one concern would be that this is more of an indirect system that monitors changes of an athlete’s biomarkers, and that sudden or wild variations in change would merely lead investigators to believe that the athlete could be doping. This new steroid profiling technique does not directly find evidence of doping – it merely detects changes of an athlete’s biomarkers over time from baseline levels that could be the result of doping, but no direct evidence of doping. This technique has been utilized with blood samples (known as blood profiling) since 2008, and has resulted in the detection of doping in cyclists. This new implementation involves the additional use of urine profiling in conjunction with blood profiling to achieve better and more accurate results.
In the announcement at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in South Africa, WADA stated that Testosterone levels in particular will be monitored closely and that this profiling technique will be implemented starting on January 1, 2014 in preparation for the World Cup in Brazil. What does this mean for the issue of steroids in sports? We will only have to wait to see, but it is very evident that from the indirect nature of this system, there may be concerns as to the legitimacy of some of the results if an athlete tests positive.