Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Juicing, gene therapy, and the Games

According to The Australian July 22:

Chinese doping scams exposed

A multinational investigation of the doping trade in China found:

* A hospital that was willing to perform gene therapy on an Olympic athlete;

* An easily accessible black market for human growth hormone, steroids and EPO;

* A banned coach who has returned to the national swimming team;

* A former Chinese swimmer who has revealed how she was doped in the 1980s.

The findings were broadcast on German television in a documentary titled Flying High in Middle Kingdom. Some of the research was conducted by The Times' swimming writer Craig Lord and published on the website www.swimnews.com.

World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman described the revelations as "worse than my worst fears".

The investigators filmed the head of the gene therapy department of a Chinese hospital agreeing to give stem cell treatment to a fictitious American swimmer.

"We have no experience with sports people here, but the treatment is safe and we can help you," the doctor told a purported American swimming coach. "It strengthens lung function and stem cells go into the bloodstream and reach the organs. It takes two weeks. I recommend four intravenous injections ... 40 million stem cells or double that, the more the better. We also use human growth hormones but you have to be careful because they are on the doping list."

A Toronto sports doctor, Mauro di Pasquale, told the documentary there was an ongoing trade in gene doping in China.

"I know of several incidences where athletes, and this is from talking to coaches and other people that have direct knowledge, that several professional athletes in sports such as soccer, football and several amateur athletes even on the elite Olympic level have gone to China and had gene doping performed," he said. "These doctors -- I can't give the names -- are involved in university clinics, they are involved in hospitals and they also have their personal clinics."

However, the Chinese sports ministry insists the government is determined to stamp out the illegal trade.

"On the issue of international criticism of the illegal trade in medication, the Chinese Government takes the issue very seriously and takes strong measures to fight that illegal trade," said Jiang Zhixue, general secretary at the Chinese sports ministry.

But Howman said the documentary's evidence made him "sick in the stomach".

"This is very distressing," he said. "It is very scary that health professionals should have such a lack of ethics and try what we know to be experimental on human beings for a vast amount of money ($US24,000).

"That doesn't match up to the standards that we ordinarily require of doctors and other medical practitioners. This is even more dreadful, because what they are proposing to do is a total breach of the prohibited list of the standards we have implied to make sure that cheating through the use of gene doping or gene therapy is prohibited.

"And it is very distressing to see that perhaps it's been used now or could be used in a country where the magnificent event (Olympic Games) will soon take place."

The investigators also approached a Chinese company, GenSci, which agreed to supply steroids and EPO.

"The substance is a doping substance according to our government and that is why we are not supposed to sell this before the Olympics," the salesman said. "But after the Games business will be much easier again."

The documentary also explored the history of doping in Chinese swimming, uncovering the case of former breaststroker Huang Xiaomin, who won the silver medal in the 200m breaststroke at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Huang is now a coach in South Korea and confirmed the Chinese national team was subjected to systematic doping in the 1980s.

"We were administered the substances at regular intervals," she told the documentary makers.

"It always happened in a room at our dormitory. I couldn't take it every day because the side-effects were too strong."

The researchers exposed the presence in the national team of a female coach, Xu Huiqin, who has been banned twice after two of her swimmers tested positive for drugs -- the female swimmer Wang Luna at the Perth world titles in 1998, and a male swimmer Xiong Guomin in 1999.

They confirmed she was with the Chinese team at the world short-course championships in Manchester in April.

Hmmm is this evidence of a conspiracy, or a witch hunt? It seems to me that there are conditions that allow athletes to procure performance-enhancing powers with relative ease, but that doesn't automatically mean that they will. Furthermore, it's not as if loads of other countries don't have athletes that are willing and able to do the same kind of thing.

I have an intense dislike for the term "China-bashing" but this could tentatively be called it.

No comments: