The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has refused to accept claims by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and some of its like-minded foreign counterparts like the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to impose a ban on thyroid medication.

On Tuesday, WADA published its list of substances and methods to be banned in international sport for the forthcoming calendar year. The World Anti-Doping Agency omitted the inclusion of thyroid hormone and Dr. Olivier Rabin, science director for WADA, remarked the expert committee reviewing recommendations to the prohibited list were of the belief that there is no way to believe that thyroid hormone could be performance enhancing. WADA said the drug could not be placed in the category of banned drugs as it does not meet at least two of three criteria: it violates what it calls the “spirit of sport”, it is harmful to an athlete’s health, and it is performance-enhancing.

UKAD and USADA lobbied to have thyroid medication placed on the banned substance list after allegations of therapeutic use exemption abuse by Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar. This was after the BBC’s Panorama documentary revealed how ethical boundaries are stretched to breaking point within Nike’s Oregon Project. The documentary revealed a drug called Levoxyl to treat an underactive thyroid was prescribed to World 10,000 meters bronze medalist Kara Goucher and then Salazar encouraged Kara to use Cytomel, a stronger drug, which was originally prescribed to Galen Rupp, one of Salazar’s athletes.

According to media reports, five current or former athletes at the secretive training camp of Alberto Salazar have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. This health condition affects two per cent of the ordinary population and tends to affect middle-aged women. Liz McColgan, the former world 10,000m champion said it is either a massive coincidence or something else going on. The prominent British coach said he believes the use of Thyroxine, a hormone-replacement medication for treating those with underactive thyroid, is widespread among healthy athletes who want to gain an unfair advantage.

European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey remarked Erythropoietin (EPO) and growth hormone started the same way and they were used to help people who had a genuine problem, but they were exploited by people looking to gain an advantage.

UK Anti-Doping had communicated to WADA that thyroid medications like Thyroxine are performance enhancers, pose a risk to health, and are against the ‘spirit of sport’. According to the policy of UK Athletics on Thyroxine replacement medicine, the use of a Thyroxine replacement medicine is acceptable by an athlete if there is an existing thyroid condition and a doctor’s exemption form is provided. However, the use of a Thyroxine replacement medicine does not come under the category of exemption if an athlete is using it to help recovery or performance. In a recent statement, UK Athletics said British Athletics always apply the highest standards to medical practice and added that Thyroxine is only ever prescribed when treating hypothyroidism and we have worked closely with the EIS, UK Anti-Doping, and the British Thyroid Association to ensure good clinical governance.

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