What a mess the IDSF’s anti-doping policy has created. In its ongoing effort to appeal to the Olympics committee as a sport, the IDSF decided a few years ago to abide by the Olympic Games anti-doping policy. The dance community thought that was a bit extreme but generally people didn’t raise a big hoopla over it. Now it seems that this policy has turned around to bite the IDSF squarely on its own backside.
It all began at the 2006 German Open held recently in Stuttgart. Routine drug testing indicated the presence in one athlete of Sibutramine, banned because it has been known to be used as a masking agent for other drugs.
The culprit was Lithuania’s Edita Daniute, second in the world in Standard and a strong candidate to win the World Championships with her partner Arunas Bezokas, since Dominico Soale & Gioia Cerasoli of Italy have gone pro.
It turns out that the drug was an ingredient in a common over-the-counter weight control product Edita was taking, called Meizitang. To make matters worse, the product doesn’t mention the presence of Sibutramine anywhere in its label or in its published information. That this banned substance even exists in Meizitang was revealed by the World Health Organization in an obscure reference of an even more obscure article in the WHO pharmaceuticals newsletter, issue 2/2005, after laboratory analysis discovered this in the UK. So there is no way that even a diligent athlete could have known that this over-the-counter diet product contained the banned substance. Nevertheless, while the IDSF anti-doping council accepted her explanation, it put into place a 3-month suspension ending December 22, 2006, and this is where things get messy.
Under the ban, Edita would have missed the World Championships taking place this weekend (November 25) in Aarhus, Denmark.
She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The CAS wisely chose to issue a temporary stay until her appeal could be heard.
Unfortunately, stay or not, this whole situation has tarnished this year’s IDSF World Championships.
While no reasonable person has any suspicion that this couple achieved their status through drug abuse, emotions run so high at the very mention of doping scandals that those tested positive are, in the eyes of some, guilty with no chance of reprieve. This includes judges. The suspicion itself that any judges of the event might harbor ill feelings is enough to taint the entire outcome.
Unless Arunas and Edita win tonight’s event, the outcome becomes suspicious. People will wonder if the judges allowed their personal views to cloud their judgment of the dancing itself. If a different couple wins, it would represent a hollow victory, because they too would forever wonder if it was a victory on the dance floor or pre-ordained in the minds of the judges.
Even if Arunas and Edita do win, the implications of this scandal will resonate throughout the dance community, because of common human prejudices. Thus, the win will be taken as evidence of guilt by some.
The challenge of tracking your dietary intake
Under the regulations, all DanceSport athletes have an obligation to make sure they don’t take banned substances. Some people take the hard-line view that if any athlete tests positive it’s simply their own stupid fault, end of story.
It’s not that easy.
First, you have the problem of products like Meizitang that don’t mention they contain one of these banned products. There is no way even the most diligent athlete can protect themselves against this under reasonable precautions. If Arunas and Edita do win the world championship and the court of arbitration later rules against her in this unfair case, that title will be stripped away. Ludicrous.
Second, those who take the hard-line view on all this fail to understand how cumbersome and complex it is to monitor these kinds of details in consumable products. I’ve reviewed the IDSF anti-doping policy and it’s as long as Santa Claus’ list of good kids. There are almost no items on it with fewer than four syllables. The drug names are extremely similar to one another and surprisingly complex, usually four or five syllables in length.
Did you know that caffeine is on the WADA list? To find out how it is banned, you have to read a complex additional document with several dozen names of compounds that are related which are banned. Repeat this for every product you might ingest from some source and you might (if you’re a reasonable person) begin to see how challenging this is.
A real-world example: the letter P
I chose a single letter of the alphabet at random to illustrate just how hard it is to go through the list of banned substances to find out if that restaurant meal you’re about to eat might or might not contain any of these things. Take a look at what you have to research under the letter P alone:
- peginesatide (Hematide)
- Peroxisome Proliferator Activated Receptor δ (PPARδ) agonists
- plasma expanders (e.g. glycerol; intravenous administration of albumin, dextran, hydroxyethyl starch and mannitol)
- platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)
- PPARδ-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) axis agonists
- prasterone (dehydroepiandrosterone, DHEA, 3β-hydroxyandrost-5-en-17-one)
- prostanozol (17β-[(tetrahydropyran-2-yl)oxy]-1’H-pyrazolo[3,4:2,3]-5α-androstane)
Waiter, can you check with the cook if any of those items are in my meal? BTW, I have 25 other letters for you to check.
I spoke to one cyclist about this and his response was so black-and-white it actually surprised me. I said that the banned substance was not listed on the label and he said, “Well rules are rules. If you’re not prepared to dig deeper to find out if there’s a hidden ingredient then you shouldn’t be in pro sports.” Really? Those who make these kinds of rash statements about how athletes should just look after this have never tried to go through this exercise themselves. I’m not making excuses for dancers at the highest levels of the sport. But this isn’t pro cycling where you have the kind of money to hire a full-time team doctor and team cook whose jobs are to monitor these things. DanceSport competitors work for a living and scrounge for every nickel they need to pay travel expenses and for costly lessons from top coaches. Nobody can spend hours looking into deep dark-web searches on every single thing they ingest to make sure there are no hidden ingredients not mentioned on the label!
As a championship-level competitor myself, I know how hard it is to even think about tracking every product ingredient for every cold medicine, vitamin or pain killer I take. I look at the label. I ask my doctor if the product he’s about to subscribe is WADA-friendly. But just try to go through a list of names on the label of any product, matching them to WADA’s list and you realize it pretty much an exercise in futility. Most of the time, I simply don’t bother because it’s not worth the hassle. I expect that the products I buy off the shelf in my local grocery store are going to be acceptable and not contravene WADA policies.
The IDSF is going down the costly and complex road only to satisfy the IOC. It’s time for the dance community to begin talking about whether or not we really want to go there in the long term. Unfortunately for Edita and Arunas, no result will fully restore the legitimacy of the 2006 World Championships.
Update November 25, 2006: Arunas Bizokas and Edita Daniute won the 2006 IDSF World Championship adult Standard in Aarhus, Denmark
Update August 7, 2007: The IDSF upheld the ban and thus stripped Arunas and Edita of the medal they had won.