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Sports Officials Meet to Discuss Off-Season Drug Testing

Sports officials from around the world have gathered this week at U.S. Olympic headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado to discuss the best ways to test all world-class athletes when they are not competing.

David Howman, Director General of the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, says his agency's efforts are well supported. "Every government in the world, every international sporting federation in the world has asked us to assist them to eradicate doping in sport. Our job is to do that as responsibly and properly as possible," he says. "Not only to achieve a level playing field for those to compete at the levels for which we do the anti-doping controls, but also for those youth of today, sports stars of tomorrow, to make sure that they get the right lead and the right values."

WADA has established uniform, drug testing rules for the various sports federations around the world. Testing is relatively easy to carry out when athletes are in one location to compete. WADA is now seeking to expand the monitoring process and rely on sports federations to ensure their athletes are drug-free all year.

Athletes who fail to comply with the stringent out of competition tests could face suspensions ranging from three months to two years. But if keeping tabs on thousands of athletes throughout the year is not difficult enough, WADA chief David Howman says new challenges in detecting so-called 'designer' drugs (disguised drugs) are complicating anti-doping efforts.

"There has been a significant change because the drug that has been designed has been designed specifically for sport, or to cheat in sport. In the past, the drugs that seemed to have been used by athletes to cheat have been those that have been designed for medical reasons or pharmaceutical reasons of some sort," says Mr. Howman. "You have to get into the mind of the scientists who are preparing concoctions for cheating. And that is a different mindset."

THG (tetrahydrogestrione) is a synthetic drug derived by chemically modifying another anabolic steroid that is explicitly banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. U.S. drug authorities first learned about THG this year after an unidentified coach gave them a syringe containing it.

The drug was apparently specifically designed to be undetectable by the standard test given to athletes. But now that a test to detect THG has been developed, sports organizations are scrambling to re-examine athletes and to decide what penalties should be imposed for its use. Dozens of top Olympic and professional athletes have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury probing a California lab that allegedly sold THG.