Bodybuilders have used clenbuterol for its well-known fat loss properties and its purported anabolic properties ever since Dan Duchaine recommended the substance over two decades ago. Clenbuterol is a well-known drug within the bodybuilding world but has remained largely unknown to the mainstream up until recently.
The news that Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France added a new drug to the public’s lexicon of performance-enhancing drugs. Contador was caught with infinitesimally small amounts of clenbuterol. Contador claimed the clenbuterol resulted from the consumption of contaminated. Many experts think this is a very plausible explanation for the small amounts of clenbuterol discovered.
Not only is there precedent for this in the scientific literature but this month Mexico’s national soccer team apparently linked clenbuterol positives in five players to a specific batch of meat contaminated with clenbuterol.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) may be required to acknowledge that clenbuterol positives can result from contaminated food products. As a result, WADA may be forced to abandon their “zero tolerance” policy for clenbuterol use in favor of a policy that allows acceptable “thresholds” of clenbuterol in doping samples.
WADA’s Science Director Oliver Rabin admitted that the issue of a clenbuterol threshold is something that may be recommended to the WADA executive committee in September.
“There are very few cases of clenbuterol so it’s not impossible to handle on a case-by-case basis,” Rabin said.
“We could make recommendations to the WADA executive committee to say over some level it’s definitely doping, and at another level it could be further consideration in a context of previous results or future results of the athlete.
The day after Oliver Rabin made his comments to the press, WADA released an official statement on its website distancing itself from Rabin’s statement. WADA, clearly upset with Rabin’s comments to the press, reasserted that there is currently no threshold allowed for clenbuterol and there are no plans to introduce a threshold for clenbuterol.
Following current media interest in relation to clenbuterol, WADA wishes to clarify the following:
1. Clenbuterol is a prohibited substance and there is no threshold under which this substance is not prohibited.
2. At present there is no plan to introduce a threshold level for clenbuterol.
3. It is possible that under certain circumstances the presence of a low level of clenbuterol in an athlete sample can be the result of food contamination. However, each case is different and all elements need to be taken into account.
4. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, result management of cases foresees the opportunity for an athlete to explain how a prohibited substance entered his/her body.
5. Next week, WADA laboratory experts will meet, as they do regularly, and amongst other issues will discuss the situation with regards to clenbuterol. No decision will be taken at this meeting and any recommendation will then be reviewed and discussed at the WADA Health, Medical and Research Committee in view of the preparation of the 2012 List.
6. The power to take a decision and to adopt the 2012 List is vested to the WADA Executive Committee, composed equally of the Sport Movement and Governments, that will meet in September.
WADA will refrain from making any further comment regarding clenbuterol until the review process has been completed.
If WADA changes its long-standing “zero tolerance” policy, many people feel it would essentially condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) at least up the established threshold. If WADA adopts the threshold policy for its 2012 Anti-Doping Code, it could set a precedent for major changes to the Code in the years to come.
The policy change could have major implications for the case of Alberto Contador as well. While he tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, he was exonerated by the Spanish Cycling Federation after he convinced them that the source of clenbuterol was contaminated food. He was not disciplined and permitted to continue racing. He won the 2011 Giro d’Italia and is a favorite to win the 2011 Tour de France. However, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and WADA have appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The CAS is scheduled to rule on Contador’s case in August.