Gold medal Olympian talks supplement contamination and doping scandals

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

'Whoever believed the person who's been tested positive?' asks athlete turned nutrition firm director
'Whoever believed the person who's been tested positive?' asks athlete turned nutrition firm director
We need to work towards the point where there is no excuse for positive drug tests in professional sports, says Darren Campbell, the English gold medal Olympian and co-founder of nutrition firm Pro Athlete Supplementation (PAS).

Campbell, who won the gold medal for the 4x100m relay at the Athens games in 2004 and silver for the 200m sprint in Sydney in 2000, set up the firm in 2006 with his ex nutritionist and current Welsh Rugby Union squad nutritionist Jon Williams.

He said one reason for setting up the firm was to “create a safe haven for professional sports people”​ by providing products registered with quality assurance scheme Informed-Sport – meaning they were checked from raw material to final product and subject to random spot checks. This is for every single batch which can be cross-referenced via the Informed-Sport website.

Discussing the recent scandal of Rhys Williams and Gareth Warburton​, whereby the two Welsh athletes tested positive for anabolic steroids after taking a 'Mountain Fuel' sports drink, Campbell said: “During my career the worse thing for me was the idea of an athlete testing positive when they hadn’t actually done anything wrong.”

The pair protested innocence in a recent UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) tribunal which found they had been victims of a contaminated product but handed them reduced bans as they were shown to have not been careful enough about which supplements they took. The Mountain Fuel brand owner pointed the finger at the third party manufacturers of the product.

darren-campbell-pas-gold

Campbell said no pro sportsperson should be taking products not registered with the LGC-owned Informed-Sport scheme, which that lists about 250 supplements that have passed through its rigorous batch-testing procedures.

"When I was performing as an athlete there wasn't anything like this. So anything I'd put into my mouth, I knew a little about but not everything.”

Asked if there was an excuse for these kinds of scandals now, given the option of certified products, he said: "That's what you want to be working towards, where there is no excuse.”

He said once it came to positive drug test results, it was difficult to know what to believe. "Whoever believed the person who's been tested positive? So they come and tell you what happened and you think: 'Hmm, really?'"

Due diligence

Had the pair shown they had done everything in their power to make sure they weren't taking performance-enhancing drugs - i.e. choosing only products registered with Informed-Sport - they would have been completely cleared. As it were, the tribunal found they were negligent, but hadn't knowingly cheated.

While Campbell urged all sportspeople to do their thorough research, he said this idea of responsibility was slippery. "As a professional sportsperson you can't be expected to know what you need to do with regards to the sport that you're doing and then how to be a good masseur, how to be a physio, how to be a nutritionist. There's so much to work on and unfortunately in life you have to trust others."

Under new World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules​ ​introduced on January 1, if an athlete can demonstrate he has taken the highest duty of care in preventing a controlled substance from entering his body he can be absolved completely.

If Williams and Warburton had insisted on only using supplements from the 250-strong Informed-Sport list, ​and one of them was subsequently found to be contaminated, they almost certainly would have got off.

No Informed-Sport supplement has ever been linked to a doping infraction since its inception in 2008.

Illegal-legal mix up

He said when now business partner Jon Williams was his sports nutritionist, he would search out companies that specifically steered clear of the body building community too.

The problem that you have is, if a company makes products that are legal for professional sports as well as illegal for professional sportspeople, you do open up the chance of cross contamination. That's why it's important for sportspeople to do their research.”

Some ingredients may be illegal for professional athletes, but not for competing body builders.

We know contamination can be a problem - not just in the sports nutrition world, we’ve seen it with the horse meat scandal. So contamination can happen, but if you’re a professional sportsperson and it’s strict liability, unfortunately you can’t afford these kinds of mistakes.”

For me, it would be easy to bring out a range of products and not care about the ingredients and just send it out there and make lots of money. But as somebody who has been cheated out of medals by people taking performing-enhancing drugs, this is the key thing: there is a difference between performing-enhancing drugs and sports supplements.”

Off the shelf 

Ultimately though he said his company looked to offer pros products that actually worked, and added that during his time as an athlete he would not have considered buying sports supplements meant for the masses from mainstream retail outlets. 

"If I'm competing against some of the best people in the world, how can that product be as effective for me as someone who's just happy shopping at the supermarket?"

Yet he added: "Having said that what we've seen over the last few years - especially with marathons and triathlons and things like that - people are getting more and more serious about going out there and trying to beat their personal best. Which means they're looking for gains that they would never normally have looked at, and then recovery becomes important."

Last year it secured a contract with the Holland & Barratt-owned GNC Group to supply 45 stores. Whilst the firm principally targets pro sportspeople, anybody can buy the products online.

He said the high profile sportspeople formally and informally advocating PAS products for free - although some products may be supplied to them - were testimony to the quality of the products. Campbell said one of the company's ambassadors, Matt Giteau of the French rugby team Toulon, was a "prime example"​ of somehow who already used the products and approached the company themselves. 

The company was now official supplier of over 100 football and rugby teams worldwide. 

"We let our clients do the talking,"​ Campbell said.

Campbell said in his time he refused to advocate products he didn't believe in, although he conceded his sponsorship deal with Volvic water was unlikely to be deemed controversial. 

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2 comments

Too easy to Blame supps

Posted by Tom,

It is too easy for athletes to blame supplements. In the recent scandal the manufacturer was an Informed Sport registered facility. To get that accreditation they must not have ANY banned substances on site. The Mountain Fuel batch in question tested clean by HFL (when taken from a retain) but the samples the athletes sent in were dirty?! There is something a bit fishy about this whole case and i think it is wrong that supps in general are being blamed and tagged as risky. There is no way that the manufacturer of the Mountain Dog product had Steroids on site, no way!!

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Horse meat case was no contamination case!

Posted by Remo Jutzeler van Wijlen,

One remark of Campbell is completely wrong and witnesses of a poor understanding of food industry practice. The so-calles "horse meat scandal" had absolutely nothing to do with cross-contamination, it was a case of pure criminal energy and such is not to prevent with any measures! The same applies for athletes trying to find salvation in blaming supplements.

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