Q&A on Gay Games drug testing
by Roger Brigham
With the next Gay Games a little less than a year and a half away, Team San Francisco is preparing to ramp up fundraising efforts and registration drives. But before it got carried up in those activities, Team SF wanted answers on how Games Cologne plans to implement expanded drug testing and how these plans would impact aging and HIV-positive recreational athletes that make up so much of the Gay Games constituency. At its general membership meeting last week, it came up with five fundamental questions to ask the Federation of Gay Games and Games Cologne. This week, it got some answers.
"We realize the FGG has been dealing with this issue for a long time, and we have faith in the best efforts of the FGG and Games Cologne to address the issue of drug testing in the Gay Games," Team SF President Tyler Cole wrote in a letter to the Gay Games laying out Team SF's questions. "But our community is understandably restless about the issue and we need to be able to give some solid answers about where matters stand with respect to the 2010 Games. Since we historically have so many athletes from SF who go to the Games, we want to feel comfortable as we proceed with ongoing fundraising efforts and the push to get members to sign up for going to the Games.
"Our philosophy is simple: We want to have as much inclusion as possible. That is the purpose of the Gay Games; open, unqualified participation bringing diverse lives together for a positive sports competition experience to enrich their lives. It is the participation and inclusion, not the winning, that we hold most valuable," Cole's letter stated.
FGG officials acknowledged the questions raised are legitimate.
"They have been present since the beginning of our discussions with Games Cologne," FGG wrote in an e-mail.
"The devils are in the details, and we have been very attentive to the need to think ahead as to how the general policy already published will be implemented ... so that when the policy is published, those who register can be confident that the policy will be effective and fair, and is one they can have faith in the ability of Games Cologne to carry out," FGG officials added.
The federation said a "detailed final policy" would be published on the 2010 Gay Games Web site (www.gaygamescologne.com) this month, but offered these preliminary answers to Team SF's questions. I've boiled down their responses somewhat and added my comments.
Question 1: Will applications for waivers from drug testing and support documents be accepted at the time of in-person registration for Gay Games VIII and if so, who must sign the documentation and what must it cover?
Answer: Options being considered are having information provided by athletes at the time their samples are collected or only having files submitted by athletes whose tests turn out positive. "The obvious trade off here is that collecting files only after the results of testing would simplify the logistics of this process, but would also delay the publication of final results. Medical files ... will be marked with the same identification code as the samples."
JockTalk: This would be a radical (and welcome) departure from the onerous advance therapeutic use exemptions normally required by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which are impractical for non-elite athletes who do not have the support of government sponsorships.
Question 2: If such a policy is in place, would it apply to all sports; if not, what sports would it cover and what policy would be in place for the other sports?
Answer: The policy would apply to all sports except powerlifting, whose sanctioning body requires WADA protocols. "This policy should be more than a 'threat' – it should be a promise to those competing that any testing will be both fair and effective." The goal is to test 10 percent of athletes in any given sport. Finances may prevent all sports from being tested, but three sports identified by the FGG will definitely have testing: powerlifting, wrestling, and physique. If there is not enough money to test all sports, no announcement will be made prior to the Games as to which sports will not be tested.
JockTalk: Physique, powerlifting, and wrestling were all subject to testing in 2006 and each presents unique challenges. Drugs to improve appearance are so prevalent in physique that the Outgames won't even offer it as a sports contest, but rather as a non-medal exhibition. The sanctioning body for powerlifting has dreams of having the sport admitted to the Olympics and therefore is a stickler for not allowing athletes to compete in untested contests. Wrestling in Chicago successfully used a physician to prescreen athletes for visual signs of steroid abuse.
Question 3: Who would evaluate the validity and acceptability of any such documentation, and how will privacy be ensured?
Answer: A medical commission, whose members will be proposed by GC for approval by the FGG. "In short, the goal is to provide some background for the medical commission to understand the prescriptions made, without requiring unnecessary information." Documents will be given reference numbers and have names removed. "We hope that the (anonymous) information gathered in the context of drug testing at Gay Games VIII will help the FGG, future hosts, and organizations such as WADA and other multisport events similar to the Gay Games, to make more informed decisions."
Question 4: Past standard WADA protocols have not addressed the use of HIV treatment regimens, HIV-related conditions, or medical treatments routinely used by many non-elite athletes for a variety of quality-of-life medical issues or conditions. Will Gay Games 2010 ensure that such athletes using prescribed medications for such issues will not be excluded from medals competition?
Answer: "The FGG and GC have been committed to a policy that allows full and fair inclusion of all participants undergoing medical treatment, for whatever the condition, along with those using treatments for gender reassignment. ... the FGG and Games Cologne assure these athletes that they will not be excluded from competition or from medals awards...
"The FGG will be working with Games Cologne and some dedicated people who have already set out plans to work on HIV issues with the sanctioning body, but for the moment we must follow existing policy of this body. We note that this is only for HIV and osteoporosis conditions for which participants can provide specific and complete documentation regarding their need to use anabolic substances. For all other treatments, participants will need to check the WADA list."
JockTalk: Facial wasting is one of the conditions that WADA has never addressed and in fact has always dismissed as a mental health issue rather than a medical issue, so recognizing it as a legitimate medical condition would be a major breakthrough. This policy would not seem to address a host of other medical conditions or allow for a bevy of over-the-counter medications many people routinely take not to gain a competitive advantage but to ease their lives.
Question 5: When will the drug testing policy for the 2010 Gay Games be published?
Answer: The end of March, possibly much sooner. "The outcome of this process is, we believe, an anti-doping policy, and in particular a drug-testing policy, that is even more inclusive than that found in Chicago, but that at the same time makes the Gay Games an actor in the future of anti-doping policy, for the benefit of future Gay Games participants and hosts, and for those of other multisport events."
JockTalk: There is a real push to expand drug-testing into major recreational sports competitions, but never have HIV-positive athletes been included in the discussions. It may be that drug testing will be necessary for the Games to remain relevant in the broader athletic arena; if so, being a strong advocate in word and deed for poz athletes could be the greatest legacy of the 2010 Gay Games.
I spoke briefly Monday with Marc Naimark, sports officer for the FGG who has spent countless hours consulting with sports anti-doping officials to lead the FGG's efforts to adopt a sensitive and inclusive policy.
"For me," Naimark said, "the important thing is that we say what we do and we do what we say."
Team SF said it planned to publish its letter with its questions and the FGG's complete response this week on its Web site, www.teamsf.org.
Spring basketball set
The Castro Basketball Spring League will kick off April 2 and run through June 18. All games will be played Thursdays at 7, 8, and 9 p.m. at Eureka Valley Recreation Center. The player draft will be held March 27 at Lookout bar, 3600 16th Street. A total of 48 players can be accepted into the league.
Entry fee is $75 per player. Registration is available online at www.sfgba.com ,
Battle of the Baybes coming up
Battle of the Baybes, a unique tennis event for women tennis players of all skill levels, will be held Saturday, March 28, at Mills College in Oakland.
Participants will be divided into two teams, the Baybazons and the Baybaroos, with 12 players each. In between sets against comparably skilled players, coach Marla Reed will run 90-minute games ranging from goofy to technical for more team points.
Same-sex dance event in April
Registration is open and tickets are on sale for the April Follies 2009 same-sex dance event, which will host the North American Same-Sex Ballroom Championships.
The Follies will be held Saturday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Just Dance Ballroom, 2500 Embarcadero in Oakland. For information, tickets and registration, visit www.aprilfollies.com.
Golden Bear Classic softball registration opens
Online registration has opened for the Golden Bear Classic 2009, to be held Memorial Day weekend (May 23-25) and drawing teams from all around the country for competition at the Open, B, C and D levels. Former SF Gay Softball League Commissioner Lenny Broberg will serve as tournament director.
Registration is available at www.sfgsl.org.
News from here and there
Olympic gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham, the most high profile openly gay athlete at the 2008 Beijing Games, led 135 floats in Sydney's 31st annual Mardi Gras parade. It is believed this year's Mardi Gras was the biggest in the event's history, with 10,000 people in the parade and an estimated 300,000 at the event. ... The Colorado Gay Ice Hockey Association and the Los Angeles Blades hockey club have announced that MillerCoors will continue its sponsorship of the annual Coors Cup hockey tournament despite the current economic doldrums. This year's tournament will be held September 4-7 at the Ice Centre at the Promenade in Westminster, Colorado.