FGG gives random drug testing the boot
by Roger Brigham
After the close of Gay Games VIII in Cologne, the Federation of Gay Games voted overwhelmingly never to allow across-the-board random drug testing in the quadrennial event, overturning an anti-doping policy employed by Games Cologne that came under heavy fire from LGBT sports representatives.
In a 48-4 vote with two abstentions, the FGG General Assembly voted August 8 to "adopt new anti-doping policies which will not be based on random, across-the-board testing, but rather will be more reflective of the Gay Games mission with respect to inclusion and participation, both in development and implementation."
The immediate effect of the motion is to restore the policies used in 2006 in Chicago, in which three sports (bodybuilding, powerlifting, and wrestling) each had a testing policy designed specifically for that sport based on stakeholder dialogue, and no testing occurred in the remaining sports. The door is now open for other sports to have drug testing, but only if there are community conversations in each of those sports to identify the need for and goal of drug testing and how it can best be accomplished. (For background on the issue, see http://www.ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=sports&id=294.)
As a delegate representing Wrestlers WithOut Borders, I made the motion, which was seconded by Marc Naimark of Paris, a sports officer on the FGG board. The motion's five-paragraph preamble noted that standard World Anti-Doping Agency protocols "are not sensitive to older recreational athletes or poz athletes, two historically important groups of Gay Games participants;" noted the FGG should be an advocate for its unique constituent base; that money tied up for testing could be better used for sports scholarships; and that the perceived need for testing was different in different sports.
"This draconian across-the-board random drug testing gutted the Cologne registrations of physique and wrestling, the two sports that had so flourished in Chicago 2006," said Gene Dermody of San Francisco, the former sports officer under whom the policies for Gay Games VII were developed. "The overwhelming support for the motion at the FGG meeting was a personal vindication but still bittersweet, as it was 'Back to the Future, 2006.'"
Dermody said lessons were learned from the experience.
"Sadly we lost a cycle for making gains, but we are all now a lot better educated, more resolved to do the right thing, and in a better position to demand HIV concessions from WADA because of the forced public controversy," Dermody added.
In wrestling, the registrations dropped from 100 in Chicago to about 40 in Cologne, with just 38 actually getting on the mat. It was by far the smallest wrestling tournament in Gay Games history. In bodybuilding, there were just 23 competitors, only one of them a woman.
In the impassioned stakeholder discussions that occurred in the three years leading up to Chicago, there was a balance of voices calling for compassionate use exemptions for things such as steroids prescribed for facial wasting, a side effect common in HIV-infected individuals, and those concerned that steroid abuse to gain an unfair advantage was so ubiquitous that it could not be ignored. The compromise policy developed for Chicago allowed people to enter either the tested group or the untested group, judged all competitors together, then awarded two separate groups of medals. It was a compromise, but a compromise that worked and drew registrations.
Under the Cologne policy, athletes whose test results came back positive could submit a form signed by their physician with a list of prescribed medications, the dosages and duration of those prescriptions, and the diagnoses for them. The tests and the forms would then be examined by an anonymous three-person medical review team to determine whether the athlete would be requested to return any medals won.
But many athletes had concerns about data security and fears about exposure if information leaked, and there were no clear answers about why the diagnoses were being requested or how the panel would evaluate the legitimacy of the prescriptions. This was of particular concern since WADA, whose protocols were being used for the tests, developed all of its standards for elite athletes – not for older, recreational athletes who do not have the financial subsidies of their government or who take medications for quality-of-life issues. WADA, for instance, does not recognize facial wasting as a legitimate health issue.
Richard Cavaler, a delegate with the Bodybuilding Guild, said Cologne tested for far more drugs than were of concern in bodybuilding, incurring unneeded costs. He also told the Bay Area Reporter that numerous bodybuilders who had contacted him prior to the games inquiring about the policy did not register because of it. Many European bodybuilders, he said, were concerned that if they registered positive on a drug test, they would be barred from their state-controlled gymnasiums. Of the 25 bodybuilding competitors in Cologne, just four were from Europe.
"The good news is that across-the-board random drug testing is now totally dead in the Gay Games, and we are back to the heavily researched and consensus-built, sport-specific enlightened policy we held in 2006," Dermody said. "Instead of outing HIV athletes and wasting a hell of a lot of money, we will now have the opportunity and political capital to engage the various factions of this debate appropriately, but on our terms.
"We are the Gay Games," Dermody said. "Tom Waddell was a victim of HIV. Until WADA can develop a practical HIV therapeutic use exemption, Gay Games should not permit across-the-board random drug testing."