Olympian Drug Scandal and Equine Drug Protocol

I’m sure all of you will be aware of the recent drug scandals around the Olympics this year. It started with the Russian State Sponsored Doping allegation which led to many athletes being banned from this year’s Olympics and all athletes being banned from the Paralympics. This has been followed by Russian hackers leaking medical records of athletes from other countries who are allowed to compete on banned substances, because they are considered vital for their health. I’m guessing that the Hacker’s point is to try and undermine people success by saying that they are cheating and that Russia has been treated unfairly. However, if the IOC (Or whoever it is who determines who is allowed to compete on medication) has allowed these athletes to use this for medical reasons, they are not breaking any rules, unlike the Russian situation where the athletes were hiding that they were using banned substances, not asking for permission to use them.

But back to my point, you might be wondering why I am talking about this on a horsey blog. And the answer is, that performance enhancing drugs are dealt with very differently in the equine world. (Now, please don’t take all of this as fact, as I am a bit unclear as the exact rules, but this is what I understand to be the basics of performance enhancing substances in many equestrian sports. A dummies guide if you like!)

In Equine sports, you have 3 levels of drugs/chemicals which you may give your horse:

  • Banned Substances You cannot compete if your horse using these substances. As in if they are picked up in a drugs test at a competition you are going to be in a lot of trouble.
  • Prohibited Substances These are usually substances used to treat a medical condition which are also considered performance enhancing. Such as stomach ulcer treatments. They are okay to use, but each substance has a withdrawal period before a horse can compete after using this drug. This is so that the drug should not show up in a drugs test at a competition. If this substance does test positive at a competition you may or may not be disqualified, it is up to the authorities to decide. But if you have evidence that you followed the withdrawal guidelines and there was only a very small level, you are unlikely to be punished further than disqualification. An example of this was in the equine media recently. A racehorse had his winning title from a race removed after traces of a substance was found in a test which was used to treat a tendon injury. Racing rules said that the horse must have it’s last treatment of the drug at least 14 days before the race. This horse had it’s last treatment around 20 days before the race, but some of the drug was still in it’s system. However, in this case, the trainer didn’t receive a fine, due to the evidence that they had followed the guidelines.
  • Allowed Substances These are things that are allowed to be used during competition, although rules between authorities often change. So always check before medicating your horse before a competition. Especially at higher levels where you may get tested.

So what does this have to do with the leaked medical reports?

Well I just found it really interesting that human athletes are able to get permission to use performance enhancing drugs if they have a valid medical reason, whereas as even with a good medical reason for needing a drug, horses are not. And I am undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not.

On the one hand, we are taking horses off medication that they need so that they are allowed to compete, which is potentially causing unnecessary suffering. However, on the other hand, it is probably a fairly easy system to cheat and could lead to lots of horses being on medication that they don’t need and could lead to damaging long term effects as well as ruining the sport by cheating.

It’s only loosely related to the drug scandal currently in the news, but it got me thinking and made me share my thoughts with you. Do you think horses should be able to ask permission to compete on prohibited substances if they have a valid medical reason? Or do you think the system is working well as it is? Or even back to the original idea, should human athletes be allowed to take performance enhancing drugs for a medical condition?

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