We May Have to Sample a Little of the Crow, Laced with Clenbuterol

According to this report from FIFA, more than 100 samples taken from players participating in this past summer’s U-17 World Cup, which was staged in Mexico, have shown traces of clenbuterol.

While only four of the samples showed concentrations higher than the prohibited level (ie., were actual positive tests for the substance), 109 of the 208 urine samples taken at the tournament—52.4%—contained traces of the drug.

Players from 19 of the 24 participating national teams submitted samples containing trace amounts of clenbuterol, according to the report.

Apparently, their Twitter was hacked.

Well. Okay then. Looks like it is possible for evidence of clenbuterol to turn up in your urine if you eat meat treated with the substance. (Unless the Mexican government is in cahoots with FIFA, or pulled one over on FIFA’s chief medical officer, Jiri Dvorak, which, given the track records of both entities, can’t be completely ruled out. But anyway, back to the crow.)

Clenbuterol is a beta-adrenergic agonist (not a steroid) that is sometimes used to boost the leanness and protein content of cattle, thereby making them more valuable in the marketplace. It also has some veterinary uses.

In humans, it is occasionally prescribed to treat asthma and “causes an increase in aerobic capacity, central nervous system stimulation, and an increase in blood pressure and oxygen transportation.” All of which would have obvious benefits for any endurance athlete.

But the five Mexican Gold Cup players, and the hundreds of players cited in FIFA’s U-17 report, apparently ingested it via livestock. As Dvorak says, this development is “highly surprising … I had not seen anything like it in my 20 years in this post.”

The report will also, as the AP suggests, “confuse the legal certainty of prosecuting athletes who test positive for clenbuterol—notably three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador.”

Contador’s case will get its final hearing in late November.

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WADA Drops Case Against Five Mexican Players Who Tested Positive at Gold Cup

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced yesterday that it has dropped its appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where it was going to challenge the Mexican Football Federation’s decision to clear the five members of El Tri who tested positive for clenbuterol at last summer’s Gold Cup.

WADA issued the statement after accepting FIFA’s determination that the players tested positive because their Twitter accounts were hacked they ate meat tainted with the steroid.

Sigh.

There are just two problems with this outcome, as we see it.

First, FIFA made its determination after “working with the government of Mexico.”

Nothing against the government of Mexico, but, well, soccer is a huge point of pride in that nation, and a pastime deeply woven into its cultural fabric. They have not appreciated the recent gains made by the U.S. in the soccer border rivalry, and were very—very—pleased with the outcome of the Gold Cup. Nuff said.

Second, you can’t test positive for clenbuterol by eating “tainted” meat.

Let’s go to the expert, Fernando Ramos, “a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal who has studied clenbuterol contamination in meat for 20 years.”

According to Mr. Ramos, any animal pumped with enough clenbuterol for it to show up in the urine of a person who ate that animal would have died before being slaughtered for food.

Ramos says it’s possible to ingest detectable amounts of clenbuterol from livestock—but only if you eat the liver of the animal, “where clenbuterol is known to accumulate.” And then you would get terribly ill.

There have been numerous reports of these five players “eating contaminated meat” but not one about them “falling terribly ill from eating clenbuterol-soaked meat.”

For whatever reason, WADA has let this one go. Chances are, they will be a little more hard-nosed when it comes to Alberto Contador, the three-time Tour de France winner whose case goes before CAS next month.

Contador tested positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France, which he won, and claimed the positive was the result of … wait for it …  his Twitter being hacked? … here it comes … eating contaminated meat!

Ramos, again, from the Times article:

When asked what the chances were that Contador’s positive test, even at such low levels, was a result of the meat he ate, Ramos said, “I can say 99 percent, it’s impossible.”

Four More Members of El Tri Showed Traces of Clenbuterol

The number of players on Mexico’s Gold Cup–winning team to have shown traces of the banned substance clenbuterol in their bloodstreams has risen to nine, FIFA chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak announced yesterday.

In addition to the five players who tested positive “for a relatively high concentration of clenbuterol” and were suspended in June, four other players, whose names were not revealed, produced samples “with traces of the same substance.”

FIFA’s Dvorak said the cases were being examined with further tests at a laboratory in Germany.

Can we all agree that this latest development makes the entire case suspicious, at the very least? We are amazed at how this story is being dismissed, and how the “tainted meat” excuse is being, uh, swallowed, so readily.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: “I ate tainted beef” as an excuse for a positive PED test is on par with “My Twitter account was hacked” as an explanation for all those photos of your junk out in cyberland.

Dvorak seems to be clouding the issue himself, suggesting he was perplexed by the test results and saying it is “difficult for me to imagine that practically a whole team from a developing country such as Mexico” should turn in positive tests.

Really Jiri? Why is that? And since when is Mexico, in soccer terms, a developing country? They’ve played in 14 World Cups, been to two WC quarterfinals, and hosted the event twice.

They are very much a first-world soccer nation—and a proud one none too happy with the rise of their northern neighbors in the past 10 years.

Like any other fierce competitor on the face of the earth, they would look for (and take) an edge wherever they could find it.

We would not be surprised if there’s a simple explanation for the test results.

As the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has gone on the record saying, the risk of tainted meat causing a positive result is remote.

The chances of nine results, out of 14 tested, coming back positive because of “tainted meat”?

If you believe that, we can guess where you stand on O.J. Simpson, Lance Armstrong, and an opportunity to purchase the bridge connecting lower Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn.

Second Test Comes Back Negative, Proving … That Suspended Mexican Players Haven’t Ingested Clenbuterol Since Testing Positive for It the First Time

The five suspended Mexico national team players took another test on June 10, one day after it was revealed that they’d tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol in a test administered on May 21.

Keep that last part in mind: The original test was conducted on May 21, meaning they had traces of clenbuterol in their systems on May 21.

On June 10, according to the results announced yesterday, they did not.

What does this prove? Only what we said in the header above.

How does it exonerate them? It doesn’t—except in the realm of public (and widespread journalistic) perception.

We don’t mean to flog a dead horse (or cow, or chicken), but this story is fading—and the “beef” excuse is being accepted—way too easily.

Immediately after the tainted beef excuse was offered, Mexico’s department of agriculture cried foul (fowl?), saying that cases of contamination were one in a million. One in a million—yet here were five in a row.

Beyond that, whenever there are cases of contamination—which, again, are one in a million—the persons involved become sick, suffering “headache, palpitations, nervousness, and fluctuating blood pressure rates.”

We never heard about the Mexican players getting sick.

This article in The Miami Herald, which suggests that clenbuterol contamination is a widespread problem with Mexican beef, states that “those sickened by tainted meat are usually those who buy organ meat, mainly liver, at markets and cook it at home.”

Did the suspended players dine on liver? Never heard that part of the story either.

No, this “second test” at UCLA was strictly a PR move, designed to produce the appearance of innocence. And it’s working.

Put it this way: If you got clocked going over the limit in Tijuana, but slowed down in time for that speed trap you knew about in San Diego, it doesn’t mean you weren’t speeding in Tijuana.

This story won’t truly move forward until the “B” sample of the original (May 21) test comes back—which is expected to happen this week.

As SB Nation wrote yesterday:

The players have now requested [the results of the] “B” test of the initial samples from May 21st that started this controversy. Despite the results of the new test, the five players remain out of the Gold Cup until the results on “B” sample test come back. A clean “B” sample likely means immediate reinstatement for the players, while another positive will likely force the FMF to continue their investigation.

If those “B” samples come back negative, we’ll lay off (we promise) and stay silent on the issue as El Tri cruises to the Gold Cup title, which they seem very likely to do at the moment, having romped through group play with a 14-1 goal difference.

But if they’re positive, then that means the original tests were accurate, and an independent body needs to investigate—not the Mexican Soccer Federation.

Mexico Gold Cup Suspensions: How Credible is the “Tainted Beef” Excuse?

We tend to take an Occam’s Razor approach when it comes to doping in sports: The simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation.

In a sport such as cycling, which is and always has been completely awash in performance enhancing drugs of all kinds (see this incredible article;  and this, and this  … and … we could go on), there’s even less room for convoluted explanations to clear away positive test results.

Yet it’s a positive test from the laughably doped-up world of cycling that represents the best precedent for the five members of El Tri whose tests came back positive this week.

We’re talking about the case of 2010 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain, who tested positive for clenbuterol during the fabled race last summer and claimed the test’s outcome was the result of … eating beef tainted with the substance.

Contador has been cleared—for now, anyway. The Spanish Cycling Federation initially suspended him, then they investigated his claim about contaminated meat and cleared him to compete.

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI) are appealing the ruling, and the hearing is set for Aug 1-3—incredibly, after this year’s Tour, in which Contador may compete. That means he could be stripped of his 2010 title after successfully defending it in 2011. Ha.

But back to the Contador–El Tri parallel: same banned substance, same excuse.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mexican soccer federation is following the same playbook: announce the test results, dangle the explanation, “verify” the explanation and—boom—the players are back (and they await any investigation by other governing bodies).

It’s also possible that the players did consume clenbuterol in tainted meat, which would get them off the hook. Just how likely that is depends on whom you ask. China’s Anti-Doping Agency (maybe not the most credible given that country’s history with PEDs) says it’s a real risk.

Others say the chances are infinitesimal. The New York Times’s Juliet Macur, reporting on the Contador case, wrote the following in Sept 2010:

“Fernando Ramos, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal who has studied clenbuterol contamination in meat for 20 years, said it was highly unlikely that Contador tested positive from eating meat other than liver, noting that the concentration would have to be so high that the animal would have died before being slaughtered.

“When asked what the chances were that Contador’s positive test, even at such low levels, was a result of the meat he ate, Ramos said, ‘I can say 99 percent, it’s impossible.’

Ouch.

But the fact that five Mexican players turned up positive tests could end up helping their case, especially if they can prove that they all ate the same meat.

One of the problems with Contador’s defense (even though he is cleared at the moment) was that none of the other riders who shared the potentially suspect meal with him was tested, a measure that could have boosted his claim.

We will stay tuned, but at the moment we’d say the credibility index is trending to a low close.

Five Members of Mexico’s Gold Cup Side Suspended After Testing Positive for Clenbuterol

Five players on Mexico’s national team, including starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa (above), have tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol and have been removed from the Gold Cup.

Mexican soccer federation officials said that Ochoa, Christian Bermudez, Edgar Duenas, Antonio  (Sinha) Nelson, and Francisco Rodriguez were the players whose tests came back positive, and that all were suspended immediately pending an investigation.

The players could face bans of a year or more, but officials suggested that the players had eaten chicken or beef tainted with the substance, and said they would investigate the matter with the food suppliers.

The five have not been suspended from the Gold Cup, just by their team, so they could return if cleared in time.

For more, see here, here, and here.