In this, the third and final part of our series on the DCMS Select Committee Report on “Combatting doping in Sport”, Sports Shorts looks at the Report’s findings in relation to performance versus health considerations, record-keeping inadequacies, problems arising from under-funding, and the proposal that doping be made criminalised.
The Nike Oregon Project
The third section of the Report begins by considering treatments received by Sir Mo Farah at the Nike Oregon Project (“NOP”), an initiative aimed at elite athletes and founded in 2001 by Alberto Salazar, Farah’s former coach.
Specifically, the Report discusses the concerns raised by former UK Athletics medical officer Dr John Rogers after he visited a British Athletics training camp organised by NOP. In evidence submitted by Rogers, he draws attention to the side-effects of three treatments in particular that were used on Farah at NOP, namely: nasal calcitonin; vitamin D supplementation; and iron supplementation.
Rogers told the Committee that nasal calcitonin “affected calcium metabolism” and in Farah’s case “there was a background medical issue that could have been affected”. As for the vitamin D supplementation, his concern stemmed from the particularly high dosage, which can apparently cause high blood calcium levels, whilst the iron supplementation could have gastrointestinal side-effects.
Apparently, “Alberto Salazar explained to Dr Rogers that he had recommended the calcitonin and the vitamin D supplement to prevent stress fractures, that high dosages of vitamin D would help increase testosterone levels, and that iron supplements would help in high altitudes”. In other words, Salazar prescribed the supplements to improve Farah’s performance.
The Report also discusses evidence received in connection with the administering of L-carnitine to Farah before the 2014 London Marathon by Dr Robin Chakraverty, former Chief Medical Officer at UK Athletics. L-carnitine is a non-essential amino-acid-like compound that assists in energy production. Although not a prohibited substance, there are strict rules around its use; athletes are permitted to take 50ml every six hours, according to the Report. Chakraverty says he injected 2.7 grams and on only one occasion. The Report comments:
“While L-carnitine might be on the list of legal supplements, there is a question over why an athlete should be taking a supplement to enhance their own advantage, rather than working on their own athletic prowess.”
This at once seems a strikingly naïve question to ask in the current context.