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Jamaica revitalizes anti-doping system just in time for 2016 Olympics

As seen in the Global Spotlight and the Institute for International Journalism blog:

Jamaica revitalizes anti-doping system just in time for 2016 Olympics
By McKenzie Powell

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust two short years after Jamaica was placed under strict scrutiny for failing to meet international anti-doping standards, the country has demonstrated an improvement in both anti-doping testing procedures and education, right in time for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) inspected Jamaica’s anti-doping processes, revealing a lack of proper testing and several athletes testing positive. This incident led to the resignation of the entire Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) board, and reports declaring Jamaica’s potential ineligibility for the 2016 Olympics.

Fortunately, for Jamaica, it seems JADCO and the country as a whole have increased their efforts toward creating a more thorough and qualified anti-doping program, comprised of improvements with both testing and education.

“Since January 2014, the agency has gone through several changes to ensure that its processes are aligned to the International Standards set out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and that it has qualified and competent personnel to carry out its duties,” wrote Carey Brown, executive director of JADCO.

JADCO was established in correlation with Jamaica’s Anti-Doping in Sports Act of 2008 in an effort to create a dope-free sports environment. The commission is funded by the Jamaican Government and is expected to meet the standards established by WADA.

“As it’s the chemical component and not specific brands that are listed, sometimes athletes consume items that contain banned substances without being aware,” said Neish Gaye McLean.

Leighton Levy, who is a sports journalist for Nationwide News Network, believes that a major cause of the Jamaican testing scandal in 2013 was a lack of funding and the world’s increased awareness of Jamaica’s talent in sports – particularly in track and field.

“Now that we are winning more on a consistent basis, we are under the spotlight,” Levy said. “There were issues back in 2013 [when] the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission did not have the proper testing kits. They now have the funding to do a lot more than they were previously.”

According to JADCO, in addition to more thorough testing procedures, the commission also introduced blood testing in June of 2015 in collaboration with a local plhebotomy company called Central Medical Laboratories. This form of testing is becoming more and more necessary, as it often detects more substances than urine testing alone.

The 2015 edition of the WADA Prohibited Substances and Methods List includes pages of banned exogenous and endogenous substances organized into categories like anabolic agents, peptide hormones, growth factors and mimetics, diuretics and masking agents, and more.

The Prohibited Substances and Methods List is very detailed and complex, meaning athletes may be more susceptible to inadvertantly taking supplements that contain one or more of these banned substances.

“As it’s the chemical component and not specific brands that are listed, sometimes athletes consume items that contain banned substances without being aware,” said Neish Gaye McLean, who received a post-graduate diploma in sports management from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.

“Most of the persons that I have been in contact with are persons that don’t know they have taken something,” Irving said. “I may be naïve, but I do not feel that most of our athletes would willingly take drugs – they will willingly take supplements.”

As stated by Levy, the consumption of these items is often due to the athletes’ naiveté and misplaced trust.

“What a lot of athletes would be guilty of is certainly carelessness,” Levy said.

This carelessness is one of the reasons that JADCO has focused on spreading and promoting anti-doping education by hosting workshops for athletes, sporting federations and associations, and professional groups.

In addition to JADCO’s individual efforts, UWI in Mona, Jamaica, has held several anti-doping workshops to raise awareness of the potential risks of taking supplements, while also examining strengths and weaknesses of Jamaica’s anti-doping program.

“Many of the elite athletes are taking supplements. Supplements are not illegal, taking them is just risky,” said Rachael Irving, who is an assistant professor, senior research fellow and chair of the Anti-Doping Workshop Committee at UWI-Mona.

Irving said that because there have been cases of athletes believing a supplement was clean when, under the WADA rules and regulations, it was not, it is important for athletes to take supplements only if they “absolutely have to.”

“You just have to be careful that you buy from a reputable company,” she said.

UWI-Mona was also chosen by WADA to hold a pilot university course, the first anti-doping course at the university level to be offered in all of the Caribbean. The course, which will be available again in January 2016, incorporates speakers from diverse disciplines, including toxicology, law and sports management.

“Our athletes are of a great integrity,” Levy said. “We’ve been doing great things for a really long time. It’s not like we just now need doping to produce some of the world’s greatest athletes.”

While there are several cases of athletes taking banned substances unknowingly, there are also instances where athletes will intentionally take something on the banned substance list.

“There’s ambition for fame and money and not everybody’s willing to put in the effort required,” said Andre Lowe, sports editor for the Gleaner Company.

Irving, Levy and Lowe all agree, however, that Jamaica does not house many athletes who deliberately dope.

“Most of the persons that I have been in contact with are persons that don’t know they have taken something,” Irving said. “I may be naïve, but I do not feel that most of our athletes would willingly take drugs – they will willingly take supplements.”

“Our athletes are of a great integrity,” Levy said. “We’ve been doing great things for a really long time. It’s not like we just now need doping to produce some of the world’s greatest athletes.”

Jamaica is not the first country to have been thrown into the public eye over doping allegations and poor testing regulations. The United States alone has undergone numerous doping scandals involving prominent athletes like track runner Marion Jones and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

As reported by the Guardian, Russia is the most recent country to disobey WADA’s rules, and has been indefinitely suspended from all competitions due to state-sponsored doping.

In June 2015, WADA released the Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) report, which includes statistics of all violations from 2013. The ADRV report states that Russia, Turkey and France were among the top ten violators in the world, with the United States ranking at number 11. When comparing Russia’s total ADRV count of 225 and the United States’ count of 43, Jamaica fell at the bottom with just nine total anti-doping rule violations in 2013.

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