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Drug testing in the GAA

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By Francis Quinn

THE GAA have been testing for banned substances since 2001 and now in 2015 they have uncovered their first positive test from an inter -county player.

Drug testing of GAA players has been deemed by some to be ‘unfair’ as if it’s almost an intrusion into the private lives of our esteemed amateur heroes.

However, sport, no matter what it may be, must have credibility, an assumed level playing field. This naive assumption of a level playing field can be challenged in a very silent and dark manner by the use of banned substances.

The GAA has now dipped its toe into this murky environment and we only have to follow the recent case of Olympian Mo Farah who has yet to be proven guilty for any such abuse.

As a new player to this pursuit of cheats in their beloved sport, the GAA has a great chance of maintaining its own credibility as a fair but thorough governing body to its athletes.

They can follow the lead of other sporting bodies who have been chasing the ever moving target of catching anyone willing to seek an illegal edge for far longer.

They must follow lessons learned from other governing bodies who have been dealing with positive test results for banned substances for years on this continuous pursuit.

Accused parties will look for loopholes in the system and build counter claims with their own legal teams on tow.

I attended a sports medicine course around three years ago at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal, where some very esteemed speakers were presenting.

One of those was a highly respected Professor of Sport and Exercise Nutrition called Ron Maughan. After giving several examples of (and inadvertently defending!) controversial cases, including that of British sprinter Dwayne Chambers, Ron made a few general conclusions.

He warned of the danger of cross contamination of supplements at the source of their manufacturers where machines not fully cleansed could still contain trace elements of substances not intentionally destined for their desired packaging.

He was also of the opinion that in some cases of banned substances, the levels of that substance present in a blood or urine sample necessary to fail a drug test were not actually high enough levels of the substance to have enough physiological effect on athletic performance.

His argument therefore was that to help eradicate any cases of ‘accidental’ positive tests, governing bodies should raise the ‘banned’ level of a particular substance necessary to fail a drug test closer to a level where it actually influences athletic performance.

Maughan also made the generalisation that if a substance works ie. has a positive influence on athletic performance then it is probably banned; if it’s not banned then it probably doesn’t work. (Creatine bucks this trend however!)

Ideally the anti-doping wing of the Irish Sports Council prefer not to uncover any positive tests but hope their role is to deter any tempting baddies. Wishful thinking.




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