IS IT POSSIBLE TO DROP A BALL YOU ALREADY DROPPED?

We are not talking about a ruling in the Rules of Golf. We are talking about the PGA Tour's handling of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and its decision regarding Vijay Singh yesterday.

 

Having dropped the ball on PEDs in the past, now they appear to be trying to sweep that dropped ball under a carpet.

 

It is too easy to criticize the PGA Tour's laughable PED testing program. We have already discussed in detail the lack of leadership by and within the PGA Tour. It is sad when any form of leadership on serious issues is only raised by retired players.

 

Clearly the PGA Tour has failed again by simply dropping the case regarding Vijay Singh's use of the deer antler spray. The argument and critique has already been well laid out in an excellent piece by Robert Lusetich for FoxSports.com.

 

The PGA Tour and Tim Finchem are trying to hide behind the technicalities without seeing the big picture. It is reminiscent of baseball in the nineties. Speaking of the nineties and technicalities, one can't help think of this type of parsing (love him or hate him) when seeing Finchem explain IGF-1 and why the Tour does not need blood testing.

First, let's clarify a couple of things. Tim Finchem seems like a fine person and is somewhat hamstrung. Although not necessarily technically, he practically takes some direction from the players. It is not the same nor as adversarial as the commissioner-player relationship in team professional sports. It is a different dynamic in a non-union situation with a bunch of independent contractors. In that regards, the lack of leadership from and within the PGA Tour can also be blamed on the players.

 

Second, I have nothing against Vijay Singh. He has been an enjoyable player to watch and root for at various times in his career. His situation here is entirely self-inflicted by his admission It really does not matter who the player is that initiated this issue. That said, it may not be a coincidence it is Vijay Singh if one were to look at his career achievements: they line up remarkably similar to Barry Bonds' career statistics and perhaps require further investigation. His media silence is upsetting in the context of past PED users. However, aside from the self-admitted use of the deer antler spray (which is likely innocuous), there is no evidence that Vijay Singh has ever taken any specific PEDs.

 

The problem is that the PGA Tour continues to avoid taking a leadership role on PEDs. Instead, it is a passive observer. 

 

Here is what the PGA Tour did versus what it should have done:

 

WHAT THE PGA TOUR SHOULD HAVE SAID

On Vijay Singh

 

Singh knowingly and willfully took a substance banned by the PGA Tour's Anti-Doping Policy. For the integrity of the sport, this is not acceptable and subject to sanction. However, it has recently come to our attention that the particular deer antler spray has been removed from WADA's list of prohibited substances because it contains such little IGF-1. We do not believe Singh gained any advantage. We believe this mitigates the situation and should reduce the penalty. Originally, it would have been a 3-month ban; however, in light of WADAs recent opinions, we have reduced the sanction to a one-month ban starting today.

 

On IGF-1 and other substances

 

IGF-1 and HGH are still prohibited substances. We also know there are and will be numerous other substances out there now and in the future - including neurological substances. Although there is no current blood test for IGF and HGH, for the integrity of the sport and the PGA Tour, we are going to begin a program of comprehensive Olympic level blood testing including out of competition blood testing. This blood will be kept on file. We wish to ensure the PGA Tour is a leader on the important issue of PEDs and not a bystander or victim.

WHAT THE PGA TOUR ACTUALLY SAID

On Vijay Singh

 

No harm no foul big guy!

On IGF-1 and other substances

 

Whaddyagonnado?


 

Below is the PGA Tour's official statement regarding Vijay Singh.

The translation of this this somewhat dense statement is below (click to enlarge)
The translation of this this somewhat dense statement is below (click to enlarge)

I hope my legal background will help break this mumbo-jumbo down for us. The full actual statement is in italics. The real meaning is below each paragraph in bold:

 

The PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program, which has been in effect since July 2008, closely follows the International Anti-Doping Standard set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”) particularly as it relates to the interpretation and application of the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.

[By referencing WADA, we hope to add some legitimacy to our Anti-Doping Program although everyone knows without blood samples and out-of-competition testing, a comprehensive Anti-doping program is impossible]


In a Jan. 28, 2013 article that appeared on SI.com, Vijay Singh was quoted as admitting to his use of a deer antler spray supplement. Subsequently, Mr. Singh confirmed his use of deer antler spray in a statement he issued. Deer antler spray contains IGF-1, a growth factor listed on both the WADA and PGA TOUR Prohibited Lists, which the TOUR warned players about in August 2011. After the SI.com article came out, WADA also issued a warning about deer antler spray on Feb. 5, 2013.

 [Crap Vijay, couldn't you have just shut up?]

There is no test for IGF-1 currently available in routine blood testing.  However, the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Policy provides that an admission to the use of a prohibited substance is a violation of the policy even if there is no positive drug test. After confirming the presence of IGF-1 in the deer antler spray product provided to the TOUR by Mr. Singh through tests at the WADA-approved UCLA laboratory, the TOUR proceeded with the matter as a violation of the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Policy, and a sanction was issued. Mr. Singh subsequently appealed the sanction under the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program guidelines. During the appeal process, PGA TOUR counsel contacted WADA to confirm a number of technical points.

[Let's mention blood testing currently can't test for IGF-1 to try to cut off that line of questioning as to why we don't do real testing. By the way, we sanctioned Singh at first but he lawyered-up]

At that time, WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results. Indeed, on April 30, WADA subsequently provided written confirmation to the TOUR that:

“In relation to your pending IGF-1 matter, it is the position of WADA, in applying the Prohibited List, that the use of "deer antler spray" (which is known to contain small amounts of IGF-I) is not considered prohibited.

On the other hand it should be known that Deer Antler Spray contains small amounts of IGF-1 that may affect anti-doping tests.

Players should be warned that in the case of a positive test for IGF-1 or hGH, it would be considered an Adverse Analytical Finding.”

Based on this new information, and given WADA’s lead role in interpreting the Prohibited List, the TOUR deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr. Singh’s use of deer antler spray as a violation of the TOUR’s anti-doping program.

[Dumb luck! It turns out WADA didn't actually know that the concentration of IGF-1 was so low it probably doesn't really help. Well, Vijay, no harm, no foul! Good for you ... good for us! :) ]

Since his initial quote was made public, Mr. Singh has cooperated with the TOUR investigation and has been completely forthcoming and honest. While there was no reason to believe that Mr. Singh knowingly took a prohibited substance, the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program clearly states that players are responsible for use of a prohibited substance regardless of intent.  In this regard, Mr. Singh should have contacted the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program Administrator or other resources readily available to players in order to verify that the product Mr. Singh was about to utilize did not contain any prohibited substances, especially in light of the warning issued in August 2011 in relation to deer antler spray.

[Singh may not be talking to you in the media, but he has talked to us and we reminded him he was an idiot for taking a substance banned on our list even if it probably is just a placebo]

Going forward, the PGA TOUR is committed to increasing its educational initiatives to remind players of the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program and the risk of utilizing any product without a full understanding of the ingredients contained in that product. Such educational initiatives will include reinforcing with its members the many resources available to them on a 24/7 basis to respond to any questions they may have concerning any product.

[We are going to COA and tell the players about the program so that when someone else catches them or a rogue disgruntled trainer spills the beans about supplying or administering PEDs (because it won't be us with our lax testing standards), we can always say we warned the players once the public pressure is on us ... oh, and by the way, we have a nifty website where players can check whether a substance is banned so you can't blame us!]


The PGA TOUR recognizes that the science of anti-doping is an ever evolving subject, and the TOUR will continue to work with its consultants and WADA to stay abreast of all current developments in this area. This will include staying abreast of developing policies and procedures, specifically with regard to testing for growth hormone and IGF-1. When fully implemented tests for those substances become available in routine blood testing, the TOUR will continue to monitor the situation and make changes to the policy as necessary or appropriate.

[We'll mention WADA again a couple more times to sound serious about testing even though we are not doing blood testing, biological passports or out-of-competition testing ... hmm, let's throw in some more words that sound serious but really mean we're just going to watch what everyone else does]

Great.

 

In his press conference (the transcript is here), Finchem is very careful in his language and really tries to focus on how there is no reliable test for IGF-1. Again, he does not appear to think there is a problem but thinks you have "to take steps to help you avoid in the future [sic]." 

 

Ignoring the issues always brings to mind what Major League Baseball Commissoner Bud Selig said back in 1998 the Monday after the week the story ran about Mark McGwire taking the Olympic banned substance androstenedione: "I think what Mark McGwire has accomplished is so remarkable, and he has handled it all so beautifully, we want to do everything we can to enjoy a great moment in baseball history."

 

The PGA Tour fails to recognize that not having proper testing in place is a problem. It is almost as if they believe it is inconceivable. History has shown it is more likely inevitable for any and every sport.

 

For the reputation of a sport, being proactive on PEDs is essential.

 

It turns out you can drop the ball more than once.

 

 

Douglas Han

@theteesheet