Doping bans for ‘street drugs’ likely to be cut, too late for Murray


Murray did not technically have cocaine in his system when he tested positive. He was found to have metabolites of cocaine in his system, as opposed to the parent drug.

A metabolite is the by-product of a drug that remains when the body metabolises that drug. Metabolites are considered a marker to the previous use of a drug, as opposed to the actual presence of the parent drug.

Sources familiar with Murray’s case say he took cocaine a week earlier – while on a night out after the game played the previous week – and the traces of the drug remained on clothing or another item that he later came in contact with again on or close to match day. This inadvertant exposure led to the positive test.

The AFL anti-doping tribunal agreed in the first instance that there was no intention by Murray to get a performance edge or cheat and so his mandatory four-year ban was halved. After further argument it was admitted that the use of the drug was inadvertent, and of a miniscule amount, so the ban was cut by another six months.

It is agreed that a metabolite for cocaine detected in the athlete’s system on match day would not have a performance-enhancing effect.

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Under the current WADA code, it is an offence for an athlete to have a banned drug or the metabolite of that performance-enhancing drug in their system.

Illicit drugs such as cocaine are not considered performance-enhancing drugs when found out of competition, or not on match day. But they are considered to be performance-enhancing drugs when they are detected on match day because they are stimulants, which could improve performance.

Having a metabolite of performance-enhancing drugs that athletes use to cheat, such as human growth hormones or steroids, is critical in detecting their use.

On October 18 WADA released a draft paper listing changes proposed for the new code to come into effect on January 1, 2021. It will go to a vote when the Fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland, begins next Tuesday.

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The push to cut penalties for the use of street drugs comes after sports bodies and government doping agencies around the world acknowledged that the use of illicit drugs that are not banned out of competition were overwhelmingly not used as a means to cheat in sport, and the athlete’s health should be a bigger priority than punishment.

“While stimulants like cocaine can clearly have a performance enhancing effect when used in-competition, often the quantity detected in-competition strongly suggests that the use occurred out-of competition in a social context with no effect on sport performance,” WADA said in an explanatory note regarding the proposed change.

The changes recognise “considerable stakeholders feedback that sanctions for street drugs remain a problem”.

“In cases where an athlete has a drug problem, and not a performance enhancement problem that effects the level playing field, signatories should prioritise the athlete’s health,” WADA said.

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