Gay Games Drug Testing Causes Concern Among AIDS Advocates

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 1, 2010

For the first time in its history, all participants in Gay Games VIII this summer in Cologne, Germany, will be subject to random testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Such an announcement might be considered as standard issue elsewhere - maybe with an eyebrow-raising "What took you so long?"

But this is the Gay Games. Think about it. We may have come a long way in fighting the AIDS epidemic, but to be gay still has an implication of a much stronger likelihood of HIV infection than other groups.

Organizers are bending over backwards to maintain that they are taking every possible precaution so that anyone taking one of the dozens of HIV meds on the market will not fail a drug test. They say they're even making special accommodations for HIV-positive athletes who sometimes use drugs banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

But critics contend that the policy goes too far. They worry that people with HIV will fail the tests, resulting in their disqualification.

As many as 12,000 athletes from more than 70 countries will be going to the ancient Northwestern German cathedral city for the games to be held July 31 to Aug. 7. It claims to have grown into the biggest sports and cultural festival in the world. The games are open to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, athletic skills, physical capabilities or physical condition.

Like the Olympics (with which it had a court fight until the decision to drop the "O" word), the Gay Games are held every four years. The first Gay Olympics event was held in San Francisco in 1982. Before it even began, however, the International and U.S. Olympic committees filed a lawsuit shortly before the games, contending that they had exclusive rights to use of the word.

The Federation of Gay Games is the governing body that sanctions the games, but the events themselves are run by a host organization after winning a bidding process. Cologne won the bid for 2010 games back in 2005. Most recently, Cleveland, Ohio, has won the right to host the next games.

The Games Formulates a Drug Policy
At Gay Games VII, held in Chicago in 2006, the FGG instituted an anti-doping policy that required random testing in only three competition categories: power lifting, body building and wrestling. The FGG approved random testing during Gay Games Cologne for all performance-enhancing substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The federation is making allowances for participants who take drugs containing the banned substances because of medical diagnoses, such as HIV. Such competitors must submit a medical form signed by their physician that lists the diagnoses, prescribed medications, their dosages and frequency, and the form of administration, such as pills or injections.

If a random drug test reveals anti-doping substances, a three-member medical review commission of physicians will examine the person's medical file. According to the FGG, the only grounds for disqualification will be if the level of the banned substance exceeds that of any prescribed medication.

Federation spokesperson Kevin Boyer told EDGE in e-mail that to avoid confidentiality issues, competitors with medical conditions can opt not to carry the forms with them when traveling to Germany or during the games.

"Participants who choose to be prepared to present the medical form can keep it in a safe location of their choice until (and only if) needed," Boyer said. "There may also be a postal address (to be confirmed) provided for those who don't wish to carry the form with them."

At the time of a random test, an athlete will receive instructions on where and when to present the medical form, he explained. The review commission's administrative officer will receive the form in a sealed, unsigned envelope and will write the athlete's sample collection code on it. There will be no other identifying information on the envelope.

The Biochemical Institute at the German Sports University in Cologne, one of the world's leading WADA drug-testing laboratories, will analyze the test samples. Testing costs are a part of the event's budget so the athletes will not have to pay for them. Boyer said the university is a Gay Games Cologne partner and is providing many venues at its Sportpark Muengersdorf campus.

Boyer also maintained that the federation adopted the anti-doping policy to promote inclusion. "For the first time, all athletes receiving any medical treatment for whatever reason will be able to participate in a drug-tested competition, with no fear of a doping violation," he contended.

Also for the first time, all athletes will be able to compete in the same division, regardless of medical status. "The FGG and Gay Games Cologne have worked together on the development of the policy, including the integration of expectations regarding drug testing from public authorities and athletes in Germany," Boyer reported.

"We recognize that the policy may not satisfy everyone (including those who would prefer a more restrictive policy), but we believe that the feedback mechanisms are both inclusive and representative, and we will continue to refine the policy based upon the 2010 experience."

Next: Despite protections, why some are skeptical


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