Authorities link 'supplements' to Greek sprinters' doping scandal

Related tags Dietary supplement

The doping scandal surrounding Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and
Ekaterini Thanou has again brought supplements under media scrutiny
after Greek authorities uncovered large quantities of supplements
containing ephedrine, banned in sports, at premises owned by the
sprinters' coach Christos Tsekos.

Ephedra, prohibited as a food supplement in Greece and even more liberal markets like the US and the Netherlands, has long been considered illegal by sports federations and the world anti-doping agency.

The supplements also contained other illegal substances including 'advanced anabolic steroids', according to press reports. It is therefore arguable as to whether the products can be defined as 'supplements', but given the media coverage, the revelations could be very damaging to the supplement industry.

"Sports people promote the whole business. If the superstars say 'we take multivitamins', this has a bigger effect than a major multivitamin marketing campaign,"​ said Theo van Rooij, chairman of the Netherlands health products trade association NPN.

A negative association, could in turn, have a damaging impact.

"Sportspeople may account for only 3 to 4 per cent of the whole food supplement business in Holland but even if the sales are not big, the impact can be very important."

The raid on coach Christos Tsekos' facilities was part of a Greek criminal investigation into whether Tsekos had been distributing controlled substances without a licence through his nutritional supplements business. It was also revealed this weekend that Tsekos had been the subject of a similar raid in July 2003 when the police also found supplements containing ephedrine.

A source told Reuters that "these boxes are the trump card in the whole anti-doping investigation".

In other cases, Van Rooij explained that illegal products often infiltrate the market through Internet and mail order. Poor quality controls can also allow traces of substances illegal in sport to contaminate other vitamins.

"In the US, where some hormones are allowed to be sold over the counter, like DHEA, it is possible that companies are producing a hormone one day and the next they are producing vitamins on the same line, allowing small traces of hormone into production."

This means that many sports federations advise against taking any supplements, including standard multivitamins. However a new initiative, introduced this year in the Netherlands, has allowed some products to be recognised as safe for athletes throught a stringent testing programme.

Called the Netherlands Security System Nutritional Supplements Elite Sports (NZVT), the system is run by the NPN as well as the Netherlands Olympic Committee * Netherlands Sports Confederation (NOC*NSF) and the Netherlands Centre for Doping affairs (NeCeDo). It requires a specific HACCP system developed by NPN in which extra criteria were incorporated for the various stages of the production process as well as laboratory analyses on every batch of nutritional supplements produced within the NZVT system. The supplements are also subject to random extra, double analyses as an extra security.

"It provides a clear solution for athletes in that they have the choice of about 100 products that they know are free of illegal substances. It means there is no excuse any more [for an athlete to claim they did not know about the contents of the product],"​ said van Rooij.

"Until a year ago, all sports federations in Holland advised against the use of food supplements,"​ he added.

At the launch of the NZVT website​, a total of 85 products were listed ranging from vitamins to creatine and protein powders. Twelve products were not listed on the initial NZVT list mainly due to positive analyses for caffeine and one did not meet the requirements of the HACCP+ system.

The system is being closely watched by other countries and despite the heavy costs for the companies participating in the scheme, time may prove the scheme to be worth the investment.

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