A report from German broadcast network ARD—which previously broadcast bombshells about FIFA corruption in Qatar and unpunished doping activity—claims that the IOC covered up doping cases from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. German journalist Hajo Seppelt reports that “in 2016 during the re-analysis for banned substances, clenbuterol was detected in several urine samples from the 2008 Jamaican Olympics team.” The IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency flatly denied it in statements.
ARD mentioned no names in the report. You might remember Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt’s coming out party at the Beijing Olympics where he ate 1,000 Chicken McNuggets and won three gold medals, one of which was stripped earlier this year when his 4x100 relay teammate Nesta Carter was found guilty of a doping violation. Bolt himself has never failed a drug test, but critics have long questioned the small island of Jamaica’s sprinting dominance over the last decade and called for stronger doping protocols.
The issue here, though, isn’t so much the potentially tainted piss (Who cares?! the 2008 Olympics were fun as hell!), but rather allegations of yet another fuck-up from both the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency, two holier-than-thou organizations that continually trip over their own dicks. Say what you will about “performance enhancing drugs”—like that they’re just arbitrary rules from a wholly corrupt anti-doping agency—this is a bad look for a sport already synonymous with doping.
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, athletes were warned of the very real potential for contaminated meat in China, where livestock farmers use clenbuterol for meat production. Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for a positive clenbuterol test, which he chalked up to tainted steak. Contaminated meat is the clenbuterol excuse of choice and has been for years, no matter the amount discovered in an athlete’s sample.
The ARD story reported that positive clenbuterol tests from Jamaican sprinters were not prosecuted. And WADA director general Olivier Niggli did not dispute it, even admitting that contaminated meat is a convenient excuse.
“I am aware of the fact that [in some] cases from Jamaica, some [...] very low levels of clenbuterol were found,” he told ARD last month. “Of course this is not great. Because if you’re cheating, if you are a cheater, you have a perfect excuse [with contaminated meat] if you get caught. But that’s where we are.”
This is not just some whacky, anonymously-sourced story pinning wild unsubstantiated allegations on the Jamaicans. WADA and the IOC have confirmed that low levels of clenbuterol were found in re-testing done last year. On the record! “During the re-analysis of the stored urine samples from the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, the laboratory found in a number of cases of athletes from a number of countries and from a number of different sports, very low levels of clenbuterol,” the IOC said in a statement.
And why does that matter? Clenbuterol has been banned since 1992 and is a “no threshold” drug. No matter how much clenbuterol is in an athlete’s system, it should trigger a positive. From the ARD report:
The fact of the matter is: WADA has not set any predefined threshold for the clenbuterol substance; any finding, no matter how low the amount, is regarded as a conspicuous doping test, which has to result in further investigation, according to the anti-doping rules. “It seems highly unusual to me that the correct procedures were not followed in this case,” said WADA’s first president, Richard Pound. The longtime sports functionary sees the focus placed especially on Jamaica. “Certainly Jamaica is known to have a problem. And it’s known to have astonishing success. Particularly in athletics in short distances. So therefore if you’re doing your job properly you should track down everything you possibly can. And do not leave any stone unturned.”
This is a story about process. A process that the IOC and WADA have been consistently inconsistent about. And WADA’s language around clenbuterol is both strict and pathologically vague. It is a no threshold drug, yet WADA also has unilateral wiggle room. “It is possible that under certain circumstance the presence of a low level of clenbuterol in an athlete sample can be the result of food contamination,” WADA’s website reads. “However, each case is different and all elements need to be taken into account, along with the context of the case.”
Context is fair and good in these situations. Gray areas exist. Contaminated meat exists! But if you are going to arbitrarily make clenbuterol banned and then pursue only certain levels, then you should arbitrarily specify a level that triggers an arbitrary punishment.
It’s not just these unnamed Jamaican sprinters either. WADA has been all over the map in regards to punishing clenbuterol cases. A bunch of FIFA players at the 2011 U-17 World Cup in Mexico who had trace amounts of clenbuterol in their system did not have their cases pursued. Australian cyclist Michael Rogers had a positive test overturned after he claimed he ate tainted beef in China.
The problem here is not whether Contador or several unnamed Jamaican sprinters ate tainted bone-in ribeyes, or actually did use clenbuterol for its purported performance enhancing effects. It’s the specter of two international agencies tasked with policing sport deciding when and how they want to enforce their codes and rulebooks, which have real effects on real athletes’ lives and earning power. WADA, it appears, is still useless and corrupt.