Games Cologne misses mark with drug testing policy
by Roger Brigham
Often I find myself on these pages lauding the Gay Games, which I truly believe have been one of the most wonderful social engagements advancing our collective community over the past three decades. There is empowering genius in the trademark mantra of "Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best," which on the surface sounds jingoistic but actually challenges elitist values that enfranchise the few at the expense of the many. But much as I love the games, for which I have devoted countless hours the past few years as a volunteer, a serious error in judgment is being made by organizers of this year's event. So I am encouraging collective acts of non-cooperation.
Games Cologne organizers say all sports in this year's Gay Games will be subject to random drug testing – a first for the Gay Games. Individuals who test positive for performance enhancing drugs are promised the option of being able to produce a document signed by their caregivers listing their prescribed medications, the dosages and durations of the prescriptions, and the diagnoses for which the medications are prescribed. An anonymous three-person panel will then determine whether the athletes have failed their tests and be asked to return their medals.
This is a radical expansion from 2006. That year, drug testing was limited to three sports: bodybuilding, powerlifting, and wrestling, each of which had a different specific policy tailored to the perceived needs of that sport. The policies were developed through years of passionate and committed discussions among stakeholders in those sports. Each policy involved compromise, with the full expectation that as future Gay Games jumped on the global anti-doping bandwagon, future policies would by formulated through community discussions with human rights advocates, LGBT recreational athletes, and health care providers savvy with the issues faced by older recreational athletes, including those with HIV.
Never happened. The blanket policy for 2010 was autocratically imposed by the host organization rather than developed through community dialogue. So much for inclusion and participation.
More than a year ago, Team San Francisco, a member of the Federation of Gay Games, asked the FGG and Games Cologne for answers to its concerns regarding drug testing. (See http://ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=sports&id=226.)
"We have faith in the best efforts of the FGG and Games Cologne to address the issue of drug testing in the Gay Games," Team SF wrote. "But our community is understandably restless about the issue and we need to be able to give some solid answers about where matters stand with respect to the 2010 Games."
The FGG wrote back. Games Cologne did not.
There were assurances from the FGG of the goals sought, the steps that would be taken. But the nuts and bolts of the thing were not laid out and community discussions have not been held.
Taking beta blockers to help with a heart condition? On asthma medication? Taking steroids to help with facial wasting, or on hormone replacement therapy? Then that cup you pee into could yield a positive result and trigger a review.
Games Cologne says any medical information provided will be kept confidential. And officials say their panel won't question the appropriateness of the treatments. Trust us, they say.
But trust is built through dialogue, not a wall of silence. What we are left with is doubt and suspicion. I know of several athletes who have already pulled out because they cannot risk their HIV status being exposed in their professions or running afoul of the World Anti-Doping Agency. At the Don Jung Memorial Wrestling Tournament in San Francisco last month, club leaders discussed refusing compliance with the drug testing en masse.
Richard Cavaler, a delegate from the Bodybuilding Guild and the bodybuilding sports coordinator for the FGG, told me about a bodybuilder from Western Europe who was concerned a positive test, even if the Games Cologne medical panel cleared him to win a medal, could get him banned from his gymnasium, which must follow WADA protocols.
"He's terrified that if he is found positive, that this should ever get back to the anti-doping officials," Cavaler said. "Where he trains at, all the gyms have to subscribe to the WADA codes. Their athletes are regulated by the government. And if you don't take the test, that itself is a doping violation.
"He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He wants his money back."
Games Cologne said the medical panel will not evaluate the reasons for the prescriptions. When asked during a recent FGG sports committee call why the panel needs to know the diagnoses at all, Games Cologne said only cryptically that the panel members said they needed to know. Period.
Apparently this passes for dialogue.
Perhaps it was predictable that Cologne and bodybuilding were headed for a collision course. The city of Cologne has a noteworthy role in the laudable effort to root drug cheats out of sports. It held one of the first major international symposiums on sports doping in 2001. In a paper delivered at that symposium, Dr. Vassilis Mougios, a professor in sports science from Greece, urged "stricter control on the trade of banned substances" and took particular note of abuses in physique.
"Of all the possible recreational sporting activities," he wrote, "bodybuilding draws the lion's share in doping. Reports raise the percentage of male bodybuilders having taken banned substances at least once, to between 20 and over 50, while the corresponding percentages among female bodybuilders range between 3 and over 10. However, when it comes to participants in bodybuilding contests (which should be viewed like beauty contests rather than true athletic competition), nearly all appear to dope."
Drug cheating in bodybuilding has been so problematic that past Gay Games have considered tossing it out completely, and the World Outgames went so far as to make it an exhibition rather than a competition. There have been suggestions that perhaps some bodybuilders could opt to appear in Cologne as "guest posers" rather than contestants. But such "solutions" are repugnant for an event billed on a principle of inclusion. Separate but equal inevitably relegates some to second-class citizenry.
So I call on the FGG and Games Cologne to reject the existing Gay Games drug testing policy on these grounds: It was not developed with community involvement (violating the principles of inclusion and participation) in order to ensure that all relevant concerns, from dignity to privacy to security, were met; it prioritizes catching cheats over including the health impaired; the WADA standards on which it is founded were developed for younger elite athletes rather than recreational sports for older athletes; there has been no education of the LGBT sporting community on what will happen when medical files are submitted to the black box review panel; the community has not had an opportunity to vet either the appropriateness of the panelists backgrounds or the procedures it will follow; an across-the-board policy applied to all sports does not meet the specific needs of each of those sports.
The saddest thing about the years since Gay Games VII is the wasted opportunity they represent. There was real vision, real energy, behind the discussions that led up to the policies in Chicago. They provided a good foundation to be built upon by a host committed to the advancement of LGBT sports, an opportunity to be the first proactive advocates for the poz and transgender sports communities, communities and athletes the elite sports organizations scarcely even acknowledge.
Return to the policies of 2006, or don't have any drug testing at all. If not, my advice to athletes is simple: Don't pee in the cup, don't turn in the form, and don't return any medals.
Three decades ago, when the games were just getting started, they set about tearing down barriers even as they were providing a medium of hope for those dying of AIDS. Sad if the legacy of this year's Gay Games is a needless barrier to those who need the games the most.
Speaking up makes a difference
Leonard Graff, who is heavily involved in fundraising for health care, was with some friends near the driving range at Santa Clara Golf and Tennis a few weeks back when they heard an instructor barking at the pupils in his youth tennis class. "The coach was yelling, 'You train like a sissy, you'll play like a sissy,'" Graff said.
That may have been standard behavior "back in the day," but it has never been acceptable or appropriate, and in this day and age it is in violation of the letter and spirit of Santa Clara's municipal non-discrimination codes.
Graff spoke up. He wrote the general manager of the facility, and when he didn't get a reply he called and was politely told the club had no jurisdiction over outside contractors such as the instructor. So Graff wrote James Teixeira, the director of the city's parks and recreations department, and out City Councilmember Jamie McLeod. Late last month he got a response from Teixeira, saying he had met with the managers and representatives of American Golf (which conducts the tennis program) making it known in no uncertain terms that such language was unacceptable. "In addition to inconsistency with Equal Employment Opportunity standards and the city's Code of Ethics and Values, the behavior you reported was not consistent with the positive coaching principles that American Golf advocates," Teixeira wrote Graff.
"I think it's important for everyone to see that when something like that happens, they can stand up and make a difference," Graff told the Bay Area Reporter. "We have gay actors and we have gay politicians now, but we've got a lot of progress to go still in sports."
AIDS/LifeCycle ends in Los Angeles
AIDS/LifeCycle reports that the 1,950 riders in this year's event, which finished its annual trek last weekend in Los Angeles, raised an average of more than $5,000 per rider for AIDS/HIV services of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
Registration is already open for next year's ride, and 1,200 cyclists have already signed up. It will mark the 10th annual ride and the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS. Registration is available at www.aidslifecycle.org.
Team Seattle joins 'no World Outgames' ranks
The board of Team Seattle unanimously passed a motion Monday, June 14, reaffirming its commitment to the Gay Games and calling for an immediate end to the World Outgames, currently scheduled to be held in 2013 in Belgium. The language parallels the language adopted by Team San Francisco last month. (See JockTalk, June 3). http://ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=sports&id=292.