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Earlier this week several Finnish newspapers reported that Juha Lalluka, a key member of the 2011 Finnish World Championship team, tested positive for human growth hormone.

The shock and disappointment did not come close to rivaling the response to the positive test of Estonian legend Andrus Vererpalu last season, but Lalluka’s seemingly out-of-nowhere performances in Oslo piqued the interest of many.

There are several notable points to this unfortunate storyline. First, anti-doping efforts seem to be working – at least some cheaters are being caught. The anecdotal consensus seems to be that the sport is significantly cleaner now than it was five years ago.

At major events there is much less discussion about who is doping and who is clean. When someone does come up dirty, the reaction is generally one of surprise (though for many, not in the case of Veerpalu).

This is generally good. What is concerning, however, is that the results of Lalluka’s A-sampple was made public prior to the testing of the B-sample. That second sample has come back positive, so it is hard to feel much sympathy for the man.

But allowing the results from the first test to reach the public is a serious violation of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

What if the B-sample came back clean, and the original positive test was an error?

Lalluka’s name and reputation would haev still been permanently tarnished. He would forever be remembered as another doping Finn, albeit one who beat the charges.

Regardless of the fact, that in this case, the B-sample did confirm the initial positive test, WADA, and national anti-doping agencies need to ensure that A-sample results are kept under wraps until the B-sample is tested. The court of public opinion is quick to judge, and when it comes to doping, outside of nationalistic fervor, the verdict is almost always guilty.

Lalluka is gearing up to fight the doping charges, but it is a losing battle. There is little precedent for an athlete with a positive A and B sample to get off without a suspension. At this point all evidence points to another sad chapter in the performance enhancing drug saga that has become all too common in elite sport.

But cheaters and lawbreakers have rights. The rules state that a B-sample must confirm the result of the A-sample. Until those findings are complete, all information associated with the case, even the existence of the case, must be kept completely private.

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8 Responses to “Innocent Until Proven Guilty?”

  1. Johnny Says:

    A perfect example of innocent until proven guilty is or was, Vincent Vittoz at the 2005 WSC in Oberstdorf. It was 3 or 4 weeks before the Championships that Vittoz tested positive for furosemide, classified as a masking agent and diuretic on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. His B sample turned negative, he was allowed to compete at Worlds and did extremely well, winning the 30k pursuit. I guess that’s a rarity though. Most of the time the B sample turns out positive as well. Regarding Lalluka, if I had to guess, he was probably trying to prove himself to the coaching staff of picking him for the WC team and he was borderline for selection. Although his results last year might tell a different story, perhaps he was alreadyo on the team and wanted to improve even more. Hopefully we get more details on this, for better or for worse…

  2. Highstream Says:

    Innocent until proven guilty?? On the contrary, the anti-doping system is set up so that the athlete has to prove his or her innocence in the face of the test results. The only “innocence” in the system comes before being tested.

  3. jal-al Says:

    Unfortunately, this will always happen because both coaches and federation are being warned about A sample and to prepare for B sample, humans being humans, rumors fly and the truth comes out. To me, this is simple just a circumstance of dopping, something to deal with. Any analytical chemist will tell you how hard it is to have a false positive. BTW, having two samples doesn’t mean there is only 2 test executions, the A sample was validated and re-validated before going to the B sample. That is why when the A comes up, both you and I roll our eyes, this is more like guilty to be proven innocent. The example of furosemide is a good one, however furosemide serves no purpose other to mask. It’s not prevalent and not part of serious doping programs.

  4. Highstream Says:

    Actually, jal-al, how hard it is to have a false positive depends on the specificity of the test, which WADA is not revealing (there are/have been lots of tests used in medicine with relatively high false positive rates). What the two stage testing does is lessen that possibility. But there is a partial catch, for which you’ll need to refer to public health epdiemiology: the lower the prevalence of anything, such as drug usage (true positives), the higher the proportion of false positive test results among the total test positives (it’s a bit counterintuitive until you do the math – remember the false positive rate is set by the nature of the test itself, independent of the actual prevalence of drug usage). If the figures WADA (or perhaps IOC) give out for positive results, roughly 2%, are anywhere near accurate, that speak less well for the chances of a positive Test A result really being so. OTOH, to the degree that the real prevalence is (or has been) much higher, and it surely is/has been, it’s mitigated the problem, along with having a B test.

  5. Highstream Says:

    To give an example of the latter:
    1000 athletes, test = 99% sensitivity (users test positive), 1% specificity (nonusers test positive).

    If the real prevalence of drug usage is 50%, then of the 505 positive results, 10 will be false positives, or 1.98%. If the real prevalence of usage is 2%, there will be about 30 positive results, of which 10 will still be false, this time about 33%. See the problem? Since WADA is not giving out the test specifications, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on. That’s why some caution is appropriate

    That’s all quite aside from doing away with the moralistic crap, which is hardly appropriate in a society where Five Hour Energy and Viagra are regularly advertised for everyday performance enhancement.

  6. Highstream Says:

    Oops, that should be 99% specificity (nonusers test negative), which means 1% false positives.

  7. Johnny Says:

    Highstream, one of the ‘main’ guys at WADA recently said that testers and labs are still some way behind most dopers. What he essentially said was that if you still use EPO and HGH or similar forms, you will most likely be caught, but as far as the other top notch drugs that doctors/physicians keep coming up with, not looking as good. Although things are getting better, he said that those teams/individuals with the right technology will be a step or two ahead. Sad to hear, but I am afraid I agree with him.

  8. sailguy Says:

    I agree with the editorial.

    Doping is sadly human, but so is judging people by rumours. Still, A sample results should not be news unless officially announced.