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Gay Games Drug Testing Causes Concern Among AIDS Advocates

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by Peter Cassels
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Count Gene Dermody of San Francisco among those who have yet to be won over to the new policy. Dermody has been a two-time FGG president and a sports and technology officer, but remains concerned about the impact of drug testing on HIV-positive athletes.

He led development of the anti-doping policy used in the 2006 Chicago games and is wrestling coordinator for the Cologne games, representing Wrestlers WithOut Borders.

In a phone interview with EDGE, Dermody complained that members of the HIV community were not involved in formulating the Cologne anti-doping policy. WADA standards for anti-doping are too stringent and are designed for world-class athletes who compete in the Olympics, he added.

"That’s primarily the profile for the research WADA has done," Dermody said. "To apply something like this for our population is a waste of money. We’re not the Olympics. We’re a mix of professional and amateur athletes. It’s not necessary to have proven fairness, which is what drug testing is designed to do."

Dermody pointed out that other athletic events, such as the U.S. Open for wrestling, held in Cleveland in April, do not require drug tests.

He traveled to Cologne in 2007 and 2008 to try to persuade organizers not to implement the new policy, but failed.

Dermody and others are most concerned about drugs people with HIV take to combat the effects of body wasting, such as anabolic steroids, which contain testosterone, and others that are on the anti-doping list, such as those containing hormones and beta-blockers. Considering the breadth of the Anti-Doping Agency, there may end up being many exceptions granted.

Wrestlers WithOut Borders Chair (and EDGE San Francisco Editor) Roger Brigham reported that WADA does not recognize anabolic steroids to combat loss of appetite or facial wasting and maintains that the substance is used for cosmetic, not medical, purposes.

"Is the medical review commission going to allow that?" Brigham, an FGG delegate, asked in a phone interview. "That’s not spelled out."

WADA also bars the use of marijuana, which physicians prescribe for people with HIV to increase appetite. Medical marijuana is legal in 14 states and six foreign countries, including Germany. Gay Games Cologne’s policy on the issue is unclear.

Dermody and Brigham believe Gay Games Cologne should have left the anti-doping policy formulated for the 2006 games in place, since it did not consult the HIV community in developing the new one.

Hurting Those Who Should Be Helped Most?
There’s also the question of whether the threat of going through drug testing will not turn off the very athletes most helped by strenuous, competitive exercise. Among those who believe sports are important for the well being of HIV-positive individuals is Louis Tharp, the openly gay coach of the West Point triathlon team.

His book Overachiever’s Diary, is based on Tharp’s daily correspondence and coaching plans for the West Point team. Tharp now heads TGI Healthworks, a firm that works with physicians and patients with chronic medical conditions. Tharp spoke to EDGE from Mexico, where he was coaching a recent West Point graduate entered in the 2010 Ixtapa ITU Triathlon Pan American Cup near Acapulco.

"Sport is important for people with HIV in the same way it’s important for everyone," Tharp explained. "Sports unquestionably allow you to live a healthier life both physically and mentally." Athletics are exponentially more rewarding for people with HIV because "they are able to focus a tremendous of energy and devotion to their particular sport," he added. "That can only make you feel better."

Physical activity increases the amount of endorphin secretion in the brain, changes its neuro-pathways and the way it interacts with the body, Tharp pointed out.

While he strongly supports strict anti-doping rules for elite athletes, he believes accommodations should be made for people with chronic conditions. "We need to decide how we are going to administer these rules so the widest possible number of people can compete and the rules are fair and people respect them," Tharp said.

Whether and to what extent FGG tweaks their rules will depend on what happens in Cologne. If they discover a need for widespread testing; if some athletes object to being tested; and if HIV-positive athletes are stripped of any medals - then it’s likely the debate will become as heated as any 100-meter relay.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.


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