Where once there was black and white, gray now resides. In place of analytical fact, we now have ambiguity. With one curious ruling it seems as if science has been Shanghaied by subjective art.
We have studied the PGA Tour’s anti-doping manual and not once in its 38 pages did we find the phrase, “unless a sanction just doesn’t feel right” or “until science catches up with the sampling.”
There is no Rule 33-7, the addendum that kept Tiger Woods from being disqualified following a rules snafu at last month’s Masters, in the doping manual. At least there wasn’t until Tuesday.
Since 2008, when the Tour lurched into the anti-doping era, IGF-1 has been listed as a prohibited substance. That was until last Tuesday when the World Anti-Doping Agency waffled and deemed the growth factor, which is like human growth hormone, clean. Well, sort of.
What WADA said in correspondence with the Tour is that IGF-1, which Vijay Singh admitted to using in a January Sports Illustrated article, is “not considered prohibited.”
The WADA response continued with a crystal clear, “On the other hand it should be known 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.”
IGF-1 is not prohibited, but if you test positive for it, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. may come calling. But then there are no tests for IGF-1, or HGH, on the Tour or any way to quantify what an elevated level of IGF-1 would be for, say, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound surly Fijian.
The fear since Day 1 of anti-doping is that players would find the methods and testing madness confusing and Tuesday’s news that Singh would not be sanctioned for his use of the deer-antler spray prompted a collective question mark from the rank and file.
“Well, it sounds like I can use deer-antler spray,” one Tour type joked. “The thing is anybody could be taking HGH. A blood test is the only way to test for HGH.”
Even during Tuesday’s 20-minute Q&A with commissioner Tim Finchem there were far too few answers.
When asked about the possibility that the Tour would begin blood testing, which Greg Norman called for earlier this week, the commish could offer only, “the science isn’t right yet.”
As for WADA’s ruling, Finchem seemed even less certain how players and officials would respond. “A positive reading means that you’re surpassing a certain level. There hasn’t been any level ever set ...,” he said. “Just know that we’re not liable here if for some reason or another you managed to trigger a positive test even though there is no test out there. It is kind of silly, but it is what it is.”
That the collective might of anti-doping was reduced to a sporting cliché is disturbing enough, but that no one with any authority could say with any amount of certainty that IGF-1 is clean as the driven snow is borderline criminal.
If players flocked to the S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids) website today and began buying the deer-antler spray in cases, it seems like the ultimate Pandora’s Box.
For Mitch Ross, the owner of S.W.A.T.S. who found himself in the middle of a media maelstrom when the Sports Illustrated article implicated Singh and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, Tuesday’s news was the only logical outcome and a measure of vindication.
“What they wanted to do is hang Ray and make me look like an idiot, but the tables have turned,” Ross said. “(IGF-1) is undetectable. What happened is with Ray Lewis and Vijay, WADA has realized they can’t test for it.”
According to Finchem’s prepared statement from WADA, the agency never said that IGF-1 was not performance enhancing, nor did they give Tour players and other athletes carte blanche to spray away.
In short, the Tour, via WADA, only added an unexpected level of uncertainty to testing with Tuesday’s announcement.
Whether Singh should have been issued a sanction will remain a matter of opinion; what is not up for debate is the need for absolute clarity when it comes to testing for performance-enhancing drugs. There can be no ambiguity when an athlete’s livelihood is a stake.
As Finchem explained, the Tour has always deferred to WADA when it comes to testing, which made sense. Players play, WADA wonks test. But that deference has now led to even more uncertainty and the perception, however unfair, that golf is not as clean as advertised and that in this case the circuit is playing favorites.
In a world where perception is reality, that is an unenviable position. The only way testing was ever going to work was through unwavering transparency, on the part of the players and the testers.
That clarity took a body blow on Tuesday.