The Irish Times

When it comes to drugs, UFC and IAAF perform cosmetic surgery on their credibilit­y

UFC bans the IV drip, while track and field qualifiers for Rio leave dubious world records untouched

- Ian O’Riordan

Nothing beats a little cosmetic surgery to retest our limits of sporting credibilit­y. Or, indeed, what’s left of it. There’s nothing about the UFC’s banning of IV drips ahead of the Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo fight to suggest this is a sport that can be trusted

It certainly wasn’t the UFC’s idea. Instead, and in an effort to gain some credibilit­y with the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), the use of IV drips containing more than 50ml of saline were banned. The UFC claims this would help deter the severely risky weight-making techniques popular with McGregor & co.

It certainly wasn’t the fighters’ idea either. Aldo has openly declared that he will ignore the ban, and said everyone in the UFC essentiall­y relies on IV drips before a fight.

What Aldo failed to declare was the fact that IV drips weren’t banned for health reasons. According to Travis Tygart, chief executive of Usada, the ban was introduced to stop fighters using IVs to perform blood transfusio­ns and other methods of doping. The 50ml limit was also deliberate­ly set because levels above that could be used for masking purposes.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) isn’t convinced either, and still doesn’t consider UFC compliant with the Wada code, specifical­ly when it comes to doping sanctions.

Anyone looking to restore credibilit­y in athletics may or may not be convinced by some of the cosmetic surgery performed on Sunday’s European Cross Country Championsh­ips in Hyères, in the south of France. This is the first major event to be staged since the Russian Athletics Federation was banned for its clearly systematic doping practices, as boldly revealed by the Wada committee, then reluctantl­y accepted by the IAAF.

It should help make for a slightly more level running field, although the European Cross Country has never been top priority for the Russians. If the IAAF wanted to be more convincing it should have banned Russia until after next summer’s Rio Olympics, rather than before.

Clean makeover

The organisers in Hyères have also gone for a cheap makeover, by inviting all participat­ing runners to carry a “I Run Clean” message on their race bibs, as a sort of declaratio­n against doping in sport. If they’d rather leave their bib neutral, they can do that too. It’s a nice idea, but again far from convincing.

For example, what message might Alemayehu Bezabeh prefer? Formerly of Ethiopia, now representi­ng Spain, Bezabeh won the 2009 European Cross Country. Then days before defending his title, he was arrested as part of Operación Galgo – caught red-handed carrying a bag of his own blood, which was clearly marked for transfusio­n purposes. Bezabeh received a two-year ban, returned in time to win the 2013 European Cross Country, and is favourite to win a third title in Hyères.

Still, none of this beats the cosmetic surgery the IAAF this week performed on the track and field qualifying standards for Rio. The standards were agreed back in April and instantly noted for their incredibil­ity – at least from an Irish perspectiv­e.

Of the 24 men’s events, eight demand qualifying standards better than the current Irish record, including the men’s 100m (Paul Hession’s record, set in 2007, is 10.17; the qualifying time for Rio is 10.16).

On the women’s side, seven of the 23 events also demand qualifying times better than the Irish record, and in several other cases – such as Derval O’Rourke in the 100m hurdles and Deirdre Ryan in the high jump – the only Irish women to have ever met the Rio qualifying standards are now retired.

Revised down

Now, in the case of 17 events (eight for men, nine for women), the IAAF has revised the standards downwards, thus making qualifying a little more credible. The organisati­on claims it has reviewed the number of athletes who qualified for the World Championsh­ips in Beijing in August, when the events specified (such as the women’s 800m and 1,500m, the men’s and women’s marathon and race walks) had clearly been influenced by the doping practices only now being revealed in places such as Russia and Kenya.

It has already made for a slightly more level running field – and added the names of several Irish athletes to our Rio qualifier list: Gary Thornton, Tomas Frazer, Sean Hehir and Eoin Callaghan all benefit from the new marathon standard (revised from 2:17 to 2:19). Likewise Barbara Sanchez Valencia in the women’s marathon (revised from 2:42 to 2:45), while Ciara Mageean woke up on Thursday to discover she too had qualified for Rio, having run 4:06.49 for 1,500m this summer, that standard now revised from 4:06.00 to 4:07.00.

The IAAF is happy to leave its world record lists untouched – even though most of those have clearly been influenced by doping practices that may never be revealed. Indeed, their women’s world records now have a combined age of more than three centuries, many of which will outlive the women who set them.

In the case of Florence Griffith-Joyner, her 10.49 for 100m and 21.34 for 200m, both set in 1988, they already have: she died in 1998 of a sudden epileptic seizure.

If the IAAF wanted to be more convincing, it should have banned the Russian Athletics Federation until after the Rio Olympics, rather than before

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