The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has reportedly started testing nutritional supplements, apparently collected in raids at training camps.
It is not clear why the NADA is testing them. If it detects banned substances in supplements that do not display such drugs on their labels, it may not be able to initiate any action against the athletes.
Keeping a supplement in your room, in the belief that it is just a dietary supplement and nothing else, cannot be considered an anti-doping rule violation or a crime.
Suppose it does mention on its label a banned drug, say a steroid, then action can only be initiated if “possession” can be established. And “possession” can only be established if the person had “exclusive control” over the stuff or the premises in which it was being kept and he knew about the presence of a prohibited substance in it.
By testing these supplements in the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL), the NADA will also be approving or disapproving, even if unwittingly, batches of different supplements. “The Laboratory shall not engage in analyzing commercial material or preparations (e.g. dietary supplements) unless specifically requested by an anti-doping organisation as part of a doping case investigation.
“The Laboratory shall not provide results, documentation or advice that, in any way, suggests endorsement of products or services.” So says the WADA International Standards for Laboratories.
If there is a doping case investigation, it could be with regard to the athletes who have tested positive or with regard to those, including weightlifters, whose possessions might include banned substances.
The NADA will have to be very careful in dealing with the information that would come from the NDTL, for, any ‘leak' could give the impression, by implication, that a particular product is safe and is being endorsed or vice versa.
In a world of unregulated supplements industry, with hundreds of products available in the market, dealers are bound to cash in on such endorsements — something that the WADA expressly prohibits.
Testing the supplements samples that might have been submitted by the athletes who are being charged can also ideally wait. For, otherwise, it could be seen as though the NADA is “setting up” the defence for the athletes who are being brought before the disciplinary panel.
There is no guarantee that test results would not be leaked to the athletes. There is no guarantee either that the athletes would not bring in new supplements when the hearing starts, if the initial reports are unfavourable.
The athletes will need to build up a proper case before they submit evidence and seek testing of supplements. There will have to be some proof so as to the claim that the particular stuff was what the athlete had purchased, consumed or been given.
The question will also arise whether the substance has to be tested in urine sample obtained after consuming the supplement or the product itself. Results and readings may vary in both cases.
The matter would be best left to the disciplinary panel instead of the NADA jumping the gun at this stage, on behalf of athletes charged, instead of strengthening the prosecution case.