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Votaw defends golf as a 'clean sport'

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AKRON, Ohio – After recent findings from the World Anti-Doping Agency raised more questions about the possible role of performance-enhancing drugs in golf, International Golf Federation vice president Ty Votaw defended golf as a “clean sport.”

WADA released its 2014 test findings from a number of Olympic sports and found eight “adverse analytical findings” among 507 samples from golfers. While the sample size is a fraction of some other sports like soccer and cycling, golf’s 1.6 percent rate of positive tests trailed only equestrian and weightlifting among the 21 sports tested.

The tests included AAFs for cortico-steroids, for which the PGA Tour does not currently test, and diuretics. Votaw noted that while the Tour does test for diuretics, they are “usually” accompanied by a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to explain the positive result. The WADA findings, according to Votaw, do not account for that possible explanation.

“I think in a vacuum, these are just lab-level analysis. It doesn’t give you the circumstances,” Votaw told “If most of the drugs are cortico-steroids or diuretics, there is a very real possibility that those have TUEs associated with them. We don’t consider them to be performance-enhancing in the first place. Now diuretics, I suppose, can be used as a masking agent of some sort to someone else, but we aren’t seeing a lot of diuretics in our testing.”

Votaw added that WADA does not have access to the test results or samples from the lab through which the Tour conducts its regular testing, meaning the 507 samples in question came from other corners of the game.

“It’s probably at national federation-level events that the national federations within the IGF conduct, maybe at those events that the national anti-doping organization in that country conducts,” Votaw said. “France is very aggressive in that regard. So we don’t have a sense of that, but they’re not from the PGA Tour level.”

Votaw said that the IGF anti-doping policy is “fully WADA-compliant,” but conceded that there are some differences between WADA's protocols and those currently administered by the Tour. Notably, WADA and IGF both conduct blood testing, which the Tour does not currently conduct, and WADA also requires whereabouts testing, whereby athletes must make their whereabouts known for possible unannounced tests.

On May 6, 2016 – 13 weeks before the start of the Olympics – potential participants will become subjected to WADA’s code, which will include whereabouts and blood testing. Votaw is in the midst of an “education process” with players from the PGA, European and LPGA tours, one that he said began earlier this year and will “ramp up” as the transition to WADA guidelines approaches.

“We think that so long as we do our job relative to educating players as to what goes into their bodies and what their responsibilities are in terms of whereabouts testing, or ultimately blood testing, we’ll be fine,” Votaw said.

While Votaw said it is “hard to come to any definitive conclusions” about the recent WADA findings because of the potential role of TUEs in the positive results, he remains confident that doping won’t be an issue for golf when it returns to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1904.

“We feel that our sport is a clean sport,” he said. “It’s one that, certainly from a performance-enhancing perspective, it’s a clean sport.”