Professor Arnold Beckett yesterday said that there was not a “cat in hell’s chance of determining the misuse of Human Growth Hormone”, the drug that is widely believed to be used by sportsmen as a substitute for anabolic steroids.
Professor Beckett, a member of the Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), also told The Times that he had been informed that some members of the British team had used HGH before the world athletics championships in Helsinki in 1983, when he was supervising the drug-testing procedure. “I was even told from what source they were getting this drug,” he said.
HGH, which comes from human cadavers, has been used for the last 25 years to treat children with growth hormone deficiency, but is available on the black market in both Britain and the United States. Last year, a supply worth about Pounds 50,000 disappeared from the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.
Professor Beckett explained that, as the testing for hormone drugs was able to identify substances which had been used by an athlete up to several weeks before an event, the individual could switch to HGH to maintain physical condition before a competition and probably evade detection.
Professor Beckett, who set up the British drug-testing center at Chelsea College, now part of King’s College, London University, said: “Let us be blunt. We have to be honest if we have got problems.”
In the build-up to the Seoul Olympics, he identified several other areas of concern. He said there was no reliable test “now or in the foreseeable future” for blood-doping, or blood-packing. This is the method by which competitors have a pint of their own blood drawn and refrigerated. The competitor then makes up the deficiency through training, and just before the event, the stored blood is injected back into the competitor’s body.
Several sportsmen, such as a Finnish long-distance runner and the American cycling team at the 1984 Olympic Games, have admitted carrying out this practice, and it is also believed to be widespread in cross-country skiing.
Professor Beckett said it might be possible to carry out analysis for blood-doping, but it would need a battery of tests and would be “horrendously expensive”.
But, he pointed out, blood-doping could become superfluous because competitors could use Erythropoetin, a material which produces red blood cells and will soon become commercially available. This would clearly be of assistance to all sports requiring great stamina. “There are some serious problems emerging,” he said.
He stressed that the IOC-accredited laboratories were doing a superb job of analysis within the constraints of what they are able to test for. He advocated international legislation to force manufacturers of HGH and Erythropoetin to use “markers”, additives that would not alter the chemical properties of a drug but would make it identifiable in testing. It is revolutionary in concept but not impossible, he said.
Professor Beckett said that he would have become depressed by the range of problems if it were not for the new spirit of international co-operation manifested at the first world conference against drugs in sport.
“That is a very big plus,” he said.