Beijing-2008-Summer-Olympics-SteroidsThe recent showing of the documentary film Flying High in Middle Kingdom once again focuses the public’s attention on the issue of the use of performance-enhancing drugs (i.e. steroids) and methods (i.e. gene doping) in competitive sports.

The documentary’s timing and locale is intentionally inopportune – it is in China where the Summer Olympics is to commence on August 8. The documentary, which aired on ARD television in Germany, shows that despite the clean-up act of Chinese authorities conducted for many months now, it is still business as usual for the manufacturers and traders of anabolic steroids. And this is causing alarm amongst anti-doping agencies.  Even more alarming for these watchdogs is the fact that there is a clear stepping up of doping in competitive sports – the use of biotechnology to enhance the performance of athletes.

Anti-doping officials were ‘stunned’ as an AP report put it. The same report provided additional details on this news:

The report, filmed with a concealed camera, shows the doctor with his face blurred speaking in Chinese and offering the treatment in return for $24,000, according to a translation provided by the ARD television.

The documentary broadcast Monday did not offer evidence that the hospital had provided gene doping to other athletes, but anti-doping officials were appalled that the treatment was so readily available.

“I could not have imagined it in such a provable form,” Mario Thevis, chief of the German center of preventive doping research in Cologne.

Another Cologne expert on gene doping, Patrick Diel, said he was “stunned to see it.”
“It goes beyond my worst expectations,” Diel said.

In the documentary, the reporter posing as an American swimming coach meets with the head of the gene therapy department of a Chinese hospital. It did not name the doctor, or the hospital.

The New York Times also ran a report on this documentary.

The documentary, broadcast by ARD on Germany’s main channel last night, went on to show evidence that drugs firms in China are prepared to sell steroids that have not passed full clinical trials, as well as erythropoietin (EPO), the blood-boosting drug, at a price far cheaper than in the West. In the case of one steroid, 100g was sold for €150 (about £120) when the price in Europe would have been more than €6,000.

When investigators approached three companies for the supply of steroids and EPO, they were asked to pick up the substances personally, to get round the preGames crackdown on selling illegal substances on the black market. EPO and a steroid called estra-diendione were offered. One hundred grams of the steroid cost 1,500 yuan (about £100). It came with quality control certification and proved to be a bargain. The cost in Europe is upwards of £4,500 per 100g, according to Mario Thevis, an expert at a laboratory in Cologne.

Leave it to the Chinese to offer the most competitive price on everything!