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Drug Testing News

European Tour's First Drugs Tests Amount to a Farce



Mon Jun 30, 1:14 PM ET

By Norman Dabell

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Tour's French farce Sunday, when six players went through a meaningless drugs test at Le Golf National outside Paris, highlighted just how confusing the issue of 'banned substances' has become in golf.

Had any of the six players proved to be a crack-snorter or steroid-popper, he would have escaped penalty, French Open (news - web sites) tournament director David Probyn later confirmed.

In golf, there can be no equivalent of the four-month suspension handed out to Dutch footballer Jaap Stam for taking the anabolic steroid nandrolone, or the year's ban on playing cricket for Australia's Shane Warne, who tested positive for diuretics.

French Open winner Philip Golding had been taken medicines to combat flu and hay-fever not long before he finally ended his 20-year wait for a European Tour title Sunday, and they could have still been present in his body.

What a kick in the teeth that would have been if the triumphant Golding had been stripped of his winner's check for 290,000 pounds ($478,200), simply because he was taking a cold remedy that appeared on the banned list.

As it happened, the 40-year-old Englishman had checked the European Tour's list of banned substances, drawn up by the International Olympic Committee (news - web sites) (IOC), and should pass his test with flying colors when the results emerge in two weeks.

But the bottom line here is: if tournament professionals cannot be penalised, regardless of what they take, what is the use of such a list?

It is clear the European Tour would like to sharpen its teeth for the battle against drug-taking in sport, but it seems it needs to grow its molars first.

COMPETITION CONDITION

"We do not have a competition condition relating to drugs at this time," Probyn said Sunday, after the European Tour's first random drug tests had taken place. "It can't affect the result.

"We have had to submit ourselves to the tests this week because it is the law of the land (in France) and, if the (French) Federation pass on to us a positive test, we will review it in its fullness.

"But there is no specific penalty at this time -- because we get close to a policy and then everything changes again. There is not a bound list that everyone is clear on for golf right now.

"There is the list from the IOC, but whether that applies in its entirety, or in part, to golf has not been formulated.

"The R&A (the Royal and Ancient Golf Club) have a policy, but they are still working with the World Anti-Doping Agency, to create something that can be used universally across the sport and we (the European Tour) are trying to be part of that.

"It is a long and laborious process."

It will certainly be a sad dawn over St. Andrews if golf is ever plunged into the type of controversies that have shamed sports like athletics and cycling.

But it is difficult to imagine that performance-enhancing drugs would be of any use to top-level golfers, who need to be in complete control of themselves -- both mentally and physically.

BECOMING LETHARGIC

Sam Torrance (news), Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup (news - web sites) captain at The Belfry last year, was once prescribed beta-blockers which ease hypertension, but had to stop taking them because he found himself becoming too lethargic.

There cannot be many drugs available -- if any -- that will help a player hole a treacherous, swinging six-foot putt if he happens to have the yips.

As for the modern focus on power hitting off the tee, that can only be achieved through club-head speed and a mix of graphite and titanium, and not through steroid mixtures.

Three-times major winner Nick Price (news) voiced fears earlier this year that steroids could be used by future generations of tournament professionals in a bid to keep up with the biggest hitters in the game.

However most of his peers doubt that steroid use would allow a player to stay competitive.

"Potentially, anything could be a problem, but steroids is an illogical place to go," said 1997 U.S. PGA champion Davis Love III (news).

For the moment, only France is demanding drugs tests in golf. For the players concerned, this really amounts to an inconvenience over providing a sample -- and nothing more.

($1=.6064 Pound)