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Lie-Detectors For Suspected Cheats?

Mar 13, 2013  - Craig Lord


Athletes suspected of taking banned drugs should be allowed to take lie detector tests to try to prove their innocence, anti-doping chiefs will hear today at the Tackling Doping in Sport Conference in Twickenham, London.

Delegates will be shown a demonstration of a polygraph test, with the likes of Mike Morgan, a lawyer with Squire Sanders who represented Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador and Manchester City footballer Kolo Toure, among those calling on anti-doping authorities to accept such tests as evidence.

Morgan has previously persuaded the Court of Arbitration for Sport to accept polygraph evidence in the case of Contador and Chinese Olympic judo champion Wen Tong. Anti-doping bodies remain sceptical.

Morgan told reporters: "I do believe if an athlete does agree to take a polygraph test then the authorities should consider the results before deciding whether to go ahead and sanction them. I don't think anti-doping authorities should be forcing athletes to take these tests, nor that the results should be regarded decisive, but I believe they should now be accepted as part of the evidence.

"In my experience anti-doping authorities do not think it should be admissible as evidence as they consider it to be some sort of pseudo-science but polygraph tests can have a 97%-98% accuracy rate. I have seen it in action and it is pretty persuasive."

In both the Contador and Wen Tong cases, the athletes passed lie detector tests saying they had not knowingly taken the steroid clenbuterol, which they had tested positive for.

The polygraph results were part of the evidence taken to CAS. Wen Tong had a two-year ban overturned, but Contador had a two-year ban imposed by the court, although it stated that "the presence of clenbuterol was more likely caused by the ingestion of a contaminated food supplement".

The conference in London will hear from Jaimie Fuller, the founder of the campaign group Change Cycling Now, and UK Anti-Doping chief executive Andy Parkinson. It unfolds against a backdrop of a scandal and inquiry in pro-sport in Australia and a survey in Germany that had almost 6% of all athletes surveyed admitting to regular use of performance enhancing drugs.

Meanwhile, in words relevant to swimming, a sport at the outset of a biological passport scheme, Don Catlin, one of the founders and leaders of drug-testing in sport, issued a damning indictment of tennis's attempts to go the passport way.

Tennis last week announced its athlete biological passport scheme but Catlin told The Guardian in London: "I would tell them not to bother. They're better off to increase the number of tests they do rather than spend it all on the passport. Doubling or tripling urine tests would be of more value than starting a passport because you need such a long lead-in. You need data over four or five years."

He added: "It seems it's because there's so much flak in the newspapers that they're trying to do something," he said. "A lot of it looks like grandstanding - whenever there's pressure, sport wakes up and looks to do something but then they realise later that it's not really [changed] anything.

"It's always hard to be critical of someone when they're trying to do something that's worthwhile. But if you're only taking two steps when 100 are needed, it's not going to work. If you started with the top 100 male players, that would be a good representation and then if you test them five times a year … but [tennis] probably can't afford to do that or doesn't want to. If you don't start with something of that magnitude, you're not going to get far."

The passport creates individual blood profiles. If athletes deviate from set parameters over time, that may be enough to open a doping case. Said Caitlin: "The theory (of the passport) is you get the right person at the right times and test them four to five times and then they'll move toward a mean (in their levels). Then if they depart from that mean in the future you can nab them." 

He added that legal issues made it hard to nail down cases and noted: "They're going to need so much more than just having more testing; there have got to be experts to interpret the results, people to put in the data and people to double-check it. You can't do much until you get three more samples from a person. Then you start to build. But if you're not doing enough testing the value is not going to be effective. Tennis has the wherewithal to do more. They need to spend more money on research. That's the same through all of sport."

American player Wayne Odesnik got caught  taking vials of HGH to Australia in 2010, aping what had happened with the Chinese swimming team back in 1998 at the Perth world championships, before which Yuan Yuan's kit bag was pulled out of the line at Sydney airport and found to contain 13 vials of HGH, enough for the whole squad for the duration of their saty in Australia. After he was caught, Odesnik said getting caught with the stuff on him was one thing but he'd have to be "stupid" to get caught with it in his blood.  "All you have to do is stop for a few hours and you won't get caught," he said.