Major League Baseball HGH Program Doesn’t Provide for In-Season Testing

 
Major League Baseball HGH Program Has a Loophole: No In-season
Testing

By Amy Shipley and Mark Maske
     Dec. 3 (Washington Post) -- Anti-doping experts and
political figures have taken great pains in the last two weeks to
laud Major League Baseball for a new agreement to test players
for human growth hormone beginning next spring. When that
happens, MLB could beat the NFL to the distinction of becoming
the first U.S. pro sports major league to implement HGH analysis,
after years of entrenched resistance to blood testing.
     But baseball's program contains a loophole that could allow
use of HGH from opening day until the end of the World Series,
experts say, at a time when a rigorous testing program could make
a big impact.
     For the first year at least, MLB will conduct more than
1,000 HGH tests — more than any Olympic sports body ran last year
— but only in spring training and then again in the offseason.
There will be no testing during the 162-game regular season and
playoffs, unless league officials can establish "reasonable
cause" to target a player, such as obtaining evidence he placed
an order for the substance.
     "Why should they be getting a free pass during the season?
. . . You'd have an enormous opportunity to dope with growth
hormone and never be detected," said Gary Wadler, the immediate
past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited-list
committee. "I applaud them for taking a step in the right
direction. I would applaud them with gusto if they took the step
they should be taking: year-round [HGH] testing."
     The loophole — along with the continued stalemate between
the NFL and its players on HGH testing, and no indication from
the NBA that its new collective bargaining agreement will include
HGH tests — suggests that implementing full-fledged HGH testing
programs in U.S. pro sports leagues may be nearly as difficult as
getting them to agree to the testing itself.
     Which is unfortunate, officials say, because the test has
gained credibility in recent months, after years of criticism.
     A positive turn for testing
     HGH, which is illegal without a prescription in the United
States, is believed to have a number of benefits for athletes,
including promoting healing and muscle growth and enhancing the
effectiveness of steroids. A number of prominent MLB players were
linked to HGH use in a report authored by former Sen. George
Mitchell in 2007, which intensified calls for pro sports leagues
to begin HGH testing.
     But MLB and NFL players resisted for years, raising concerns
about drawing their blood while noting that the available HGH
test seemed laughably weak. Indeed, in their first five years of
use worldwide, from 2004 through 2009, HGH tests did not catch a
single athlete. The lack of positives proved embarrassing to
anti-doping officials, who insisted the test would catch users
eventually but had no evidence to back that claim.
     Suddenly, they do.
     The first hit came in February, 2010, when a British rugby
player tested positive. That was followed by a surprising spate
of positives in the 12-month period from September 2010 through
August 2011, when six international athletes — a skier, a
triathlete, a Canadian college football player, a shot-putter, a
cyclist and minor league baseball player Mike Jacobs — tested
positive for HGH.
     At least three accused athletes — including Jacobs —
admitted using the drug. (In many cases, athletes contest the
results of positive tests and seek resolution through
arbitration.) The run of positives — and the confessions — helped
reduce resistance to the test from those who questioned its
reliability and effectiveness, according to Rob Manfred, MLB's
executive vice president of labor relations.
     "It was an ongoing educational effort in terms of getting
people comfortable with this test," Manfred said. "When you have
positives and you have athletes that admit [using] it, that is a
form of practical validation."
     But Manfred said players balked at in-season testing out of
concern that giving blood on game days would detract from their
performance. Wadler called that argument "laughable," saying the
amount of blood drawn — a standard doctor's office blood sample —
is too small to affect performance.
     Manfred said MLB could commence in-season testing as soon as
2013 if players agreed to it during an offseason review of the
program required by the new CBA.
     "Hopefully, we can reach an agreement that results in
in-season testing. . . . I don't think we're done on this topic,"
he said.
     Lacking implementation
     The NBA meantime, discussed the issue with its players
during collective bargaining talks, according to a league
spokesman, but there has been no public indication HGH testing is
a priority for either side. The NBA has escaped close scrutiny on
this issue for the simple reason that none of its players has
been named in any of the drug scandals of recent years that have
focused often-intense criticism on MLB and the NFL.
     The NFL has not put its HGH blood-testing program into
effect even though the league and the players' union agreed to
testing when they completed their 10-year labor agreement in
August.
     The two sides agreed to both annual and random testing. Each
player would be tested annually in training camp and would be
subject to random testing year-round, including during the
regular season. The two sides had hoped to start testing when the
season opened.
     But the labor deal also stipulated that the league and union
first had to agree to the details of the testing program, and
those deliberations have stalled. The players have demanded a
population study of NFL athletes to determine growth hormone
norms for them. They claim norms could be higher for them than
for other athletes because of their size and might trigger false
positives under the current testing regimen.
     WADA Science Director Olivier Rabin said the agency has
observed no changes in natural growth hormone values in relation
to the size of athletes. He pointed out that players large and
small, from sports such as rugby and Australian football to table
tennis, have been tested.
     The NFL declined to comment this week through a spokesman.
But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials
have said repeatedly that they believe the testing should be
taking place. The union, which has faced congressional pressure
on the issue, did not respond to requests for comment on the
status of the deliberations.
     "Baseball's taken the lead," said Tom Davis, the former
Virginia Republican chairman of the House Government Reform
Committee who held landmark hearings on drugs in baseball in
2005. "I hope football will follow."
     A 'significant' step
     WADA Director General David Howman said MLB's program, while
flawed because of the lack of in-season tests, would immediately
make it among the world leaders in HGH testing on a numerical
basis. Many Olympic sport governing bodies, he said, have failed
to implement adequate HGH testing; the agency has been pressing
them to make blood samples constitute at least 10 percent of
their total anti-doping samples.
     MLB's plan "is significant," Howman said. "Many Olympic
sports throughout the world have not taken an agressive stance on
HGH, and we've been very critical of that."
     Howman said the world track (IAAF) and cycling (ICU)
organizations were among the leaders in blood testing and HGH
testing in particular — and neither ran 1,000 HGH tests in 2010.
The ICU, which takes thousands of blood samples from its
athletes, ran 483 HGH-specific tests and the IAAF conducted 552.
There were 3,425 HGH tests administered worldwide in 2010.
     Rabin attributed the rise in positives to the increase in
unannounced, out-of-competition HGH testing. The test itself is
largely the same as the one introduced at the 2004 Summer Games
in Athens.
     Critics have long said a flaw in the test is its short
detection window of 48 to 72 hours, but WADA said it soon hopes
to validate a test for HGH that will expand that window to two to
three weeks.
     "We are at the stage," Rabin said, "when we are absolutely
confident about the test."
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