The BBC Panorama documentary aired Wednesday 3rd June has raised serious concerns amongst the athletics world that doping may actually be more widespread than had previously been thought. The programme largely focussed on high profile distance running coach Alberto Salazar and accusations that he had violated anti-doping rules on more than one occasion by administering prohibited substances to his athletes and by manipulating gaps in the current system. Salazar is a highly prestigious coach and heads up the Nike Oregon Project in the United States.

The allegations against Salazar largely relate to US athlete Galen Rupp. Rupp is the US 10,000 metre record holder and won a silver medal behind Mo Farah over the same distance at the London 2012 Olympics. Farah incidentally is also coached by Salazar. There was no direct evidence put forward during the programme to suggest that Mo Farah had been intentionally doping. One of the allegations relating to Rupp centred around a medical document from 2002 which suggested he was taking the banned substances testosterone and predisone. Rupp would have been just 16 at the time. Further allegations were made by a number of former athletes and individuals associated with both Salazar and Rupp who suggested that that the pair were involved in methods which breached doping rules on more than one occasion. In this respect further evidence was put forward associating Salazar with the use of testosterone at an altitude camp in 2008. Salazar’s defence was that this was for his own personal usage – an unlikely assertion.

Both Salazar and Rupp have denied any wrongdoing but neither had agreed to be interviewed for the programme. Similar allegations were made during the programme against former Olympic gold medallist Alan Wells. Wells also denied the allegations and stated that he was subject to the most stringent testing mechanisms in place at the time but again refused to be interviewed for the purposes of the programme.

The journalist involved in the documentary also carried out his own personal experiment whereby he was successfully able to take erythropoietin (EPO) in a manner that allowed him to manipulate the current system and avoid making sufficient changes to his biological passport that would trigger suggestions of doping amongst the authorities. This potential for “micro-dosing” will come as great concern amongst elite athletes as it serves to illustrate that there is a possibility for individuals who want to cheat to successfully do so by adopting well planned and informed techniques to keep them one step ahead of the current testing regime and also manipulate gaps in the current system. It will also serve to diminish confidence in the current anti-doping system amongst elite athletes.

The recent documentary has led to extreme concerns amongst the athletics world that doping may actually be a lot more widespread than had previously been thought. The programme also appeared to expose a number of gaps and weaknesses in the current anti-doping testing regime in that there is clear potential for athletes and coaches – along with the correct medical advice and research – to successfully carry out “micro-dosing” and manipulation of the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) rule to avoid positive tests. A TUE allows an athlete to take a substance that would ordinarily be prohibited to treat a genuine medical condition. There are also strong concerns that the use and manipulation of thyroid medicines is heavily prevalent amongst athletes. The hormone drug Thyroxine is not banned and can be used to treat fatigue and weight gain whilst also acting as a stimulant. There are concerns in multiple quarters that its usage should be prohibited. European 10,000 metre champion Jo Pavey has previously voiced her concerns in relation to athletes’ “pushing the boundaries” and potentially abusing thyroid medication. The programme will leave many athletes saddened by the reports and is likely to call for reforms and improvements to the current system to prevent athletes and coaches from manipulating it.

Here at Farleys Solicitors we have a dedicated team of sports lawyers who have experience in dealing with doping offences in sport and other legal issues which may stem from this. We deal with professionals across a number of different sports on a daily basis. If you feel you have been affected by any of the above issues then do not hesitate to contact us today to speak to one of our solicitors who will be able to advise you on the legal implications of any anti-doping related issue on 0845 287 0939. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.