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World’s No 1 bridge player suspended after failing a drugs test (theguardian.com)
51 points by ucha 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments



This is so... Silly. It's too bad this article is light on the details.

I wonder if this guy is just on testosterone replacement therapy, which is an increasingly common occurrence. Low testosterone can cause poor health and a number of other issues (some psychological) in men.

Regardless, saying that because someone tests positive for a non performance enhancing drug they should have their card playing medals stripped makes no sense at all. :/


It's a weird artefact of several layers of sports politics.

The World Bridge Federation is an IOC recognised sports federation, which requires them to follow World Anti-Doping Agency rules. The decision to seek IOC recognition was partly motivated by the (somewhat vain) hope of becoming an Olympic sport, but it's also partly financial because IOC recognition attracts a significant level of funding.

The WADA list of prohibited substances and methods is somewhat eccentric and clearly influenced by political concerns rather than pure science. Psychoactive cannabinoids are prohibited despite no clear evidence of performance enhancement, caffeine isn't prohibited despite clear evidence of performance enhancement and beta-blockers are only prohibited in specific sports.

The competitor in question would be permitted to use the substances in question if prescribed by a doctor for the treatment of a recognised medical condition, but he would be required to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption within five days of an adverse analytical finding (a failed drugs test); it is understandable that the competitor may have been entirely oblivious to his obligations under the WADA code.


> I wonder if this guy is just on testosterone replacement therapy

More likely he was trying to have kids.


WADA and most sports have exemptions. A so-called "Therapeutic Usage Exemption" or TUE. They are easy enough to get that team doctors for certain cycling teams have abused them.

The female drug is the interesting one. Typically testosterone is detected by measuring the ratios of different hormones, a lot of testosterone isn't even unusual in many people but it's balanced out by epi-testosterone. When you add testosterone via unnatural means the ratio skews. (Read about "the cream" that Barry Bonds used with "The Clear", it was used for masking) Hard to say what goes on in some of these folks' heads, they generally know the rules and they know the penalties and they know they'll be tested. I'd assume he took both to mask something. If you're really trying to have kids or on T-replacement, you have a doctor treating use, measuring things and that doctor can provide a TUE letter.


TRT actually damages fertility. It's useless for having kids.


Yes, but are there any conceivable details that would have made it less silly? I read the headline alone and immediately it sent to a tournament bridge playing relative with a cautionary note. Perhaps the Guardian could have stooped to the click bait standard and I might have read a little more:

  You won't believe what happened to this bridge player!


You could have probably read the details in the article (WBF tournament bridge follows Olympic anti-doping rules designed for athletes, presumably because they applied to make bridge an Olympic sport rather than because of any bridge skill enhancements from growth hormones) in the time you typed out the comment saying you didn't read beyond the headline...


That doesn't explain the clomifeme. I doubt the drugs are performance enhancers in bridge, but he might have been taking them for other (cosmetic?) reasons.


Clomiphene is indicated for low sperm count in men, it increases production of FSH and LH, which in turn acts on the testicles. That would also explain the exogenous testosterone. Thanks, Guardian, for letting the world know about that person's medical issues.


It’s also used as an adjunct for anabolic steroids. That’s more likely the case than clomiphene alone resulting in superphysiological androgen levels.


The compound is used in doping protocols. That said, looking at his photos, the gentleman really doesn't look like a bodybuilder.


> tested positive for synthetic testosterone and the female fertility drug clomifene

Neither appear to be illegal (although require prescription in most countries) and neither are performance enhancing.

What is the purpose of these rules in this case?


The article says “The World Bridge Federation (WBF) is recognised by the International Olympic Committee and as such abides by World Anti-Doping Agency rules.” It’s unfortunate that nobody quoted in the article seems to realize the absurdity of this action, but maybe staying in the good graces of the IOC is too important to them.


> It’s unfortunate that nobody quoted in the article seems to realize the absurdity of this action, but maybe staying in the good graces of the IOC is too important to them.

Here are 2 of the total 10 paragraphs of the article:

Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were “not performance enhancing”. In a statement on the federation’s website, she said: “Geir Helgemo … has previously played for the Norwegian national team and is our biggest star. Many within the bridge community know Geir and respect him.

“It is his responsibility not to take substances that are on the doping list, even though in this instance they are not performance enhancing in bridge. I feel for Geir in this situation and hope he will come back stronger after his ban ends.”


Perhaps we have different interpretations of those quotes, but I think they reinforce my point, which is that they take a “rules are rules” approach rather than thinking of if the rules actually make sense.


I don't know what clomifene does, but testosterone improves stress response, in the sense that naturally-fluctuating levels may be a disadvantage in that regard.

It's not a nootropic as such, but it could legitimately be called out as a performance aid in any high-pressure competition whether athletic or mental.


Clomifene is used to ameliorate the side effects of testosterone, some testosterone you take will be converted by your body to estrogen and clomifene blocks estrogen. Basically you take it to prevent breast growth.


> Basically you take it to prevent breast growth.

This.

Probably more well known by its trade name Clomid in the body building underground, it's often used towards the tail end of steroid cycles by men to prevent the onset of gynecomastia a.k.a. bitch tits.


The article says it isn't performance enhancing.


If the bridge association is blindly adopting rules meant to govern physical athletic performances -- or if the IOC is forcing them to do so -- then the people responsible are obviously a bunch of morons. That conclusion seems unlikely to be the right one, so I'll stand by my point until more information comes to light. I'm not professionally qualified to argue it either way.


"Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were “not performance enhancing”."

So I don't think its reasonable to go looking to performance enhancement as a reason.

To me it does appear that they're following rules meant for actual athletes. How much choice they had I don't know.


So? Are you going to take some Bridge player's word over the medical consensus?


"Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were “not performance enhancing”."

That isn't some Bridge player.


She isn't a doctor or a pharmacologist! Why would you even value her opinion when it is confirmed that testosterone has potent psychoactive effects? I don't care if she's the space pope of the galactic bridge federation, her opinion is voided by biological fact.


"The World Bridge Federation (WBF) is recognised by the International Olympic Committee and as such abides by World Anti-Doping Agency rules."


How do you know testosterone isn't performance enhancing? There are clear replicated correlations to testosterone levels and spatial rotation tasks in the literature.

Why do purely mental games like bridge and chess have separate men's and women's tournaments?


For chess the are no men's only tournaments (on a professional level) but there are women's only.


The reason (in chess at least, which is what I'm familiar with) is to encourage more women to play chess, to close the gender gap formed in the first 150 years centuries of international organized chess.


So if I'm understanding this correctly, the IOC /WADA has one list of banned drugs regardless of sport and gender.

To me it seems obvious that performance enhancing varies from sport to sport. Why did this not occur to the IOC/WADA ???


I disagree. Most drugs on the list (maybe even all?) will increase physical performance across the board for all physical activity. Testosterone will bump up muscle production whether you're swimming, running, cycling, lifting, skiing, or whatever.

This is just more evidence that Bridge doesn't belong in the Olympics, IMO.


Example, there are banned drugs the open up the airways. Now if you're doing an endurance event then it is probably performance enhancing, if you're a curler or a diver, not so much.

Then there are in between sports (that rely on skill as much as or more than physical strength) do you want a blanket ban on a drug some people may legitimately use just to prevent some one gaining an advantage? I would say possibly, but it should be evidence based, it shouldn't be done lightly.

Further the drug testing regime isn't some casual, hand in a urine sample with your entry form. Its making yourself available at set times, just in case some one tests you, and then it's peeing in a cup in front of them.


There are drugs that are banned in some sports but not others, e.g. beta-blockers.

Source: built the UK drug database and peeing in a cup scheduling system around 2004.


Do you have any idea why Bridge would ban, what they admit is a non performance enhancing drug then?

Is it because of the IOC links?


Good question. I believe that whilst there are a few drugs that have different rules for different sports, in general it is easier to just have the same rules for all sports. It's possibly this doesn't make sense with regard to "mind-sports" like Bridge; there's probably some politics involved.

Back in 2004, I remember drugs were broken down into categories and almost all categories were either blanket banned, allowed out of competition but not in competition, or allowed. Very few categories (possibly only beta-blockers?) had a more complex classification. While that was 15 years ago, I think the system is still similar.


Do you have any special insights into the process?

Naively, I would hope that the Bridge governing body would get the stakeholders together with medical experts to come together to decide on a sensible list. That doesn't seem to be the case, I'm guessing it's (lack of) money?


Ok this is getting ridiculous. Physical performance enhancing drugs I can understand, but there is no magic pill, no genius injection, and absolutely no definitive proof that a specific drug is going to give someone an advantage. There is simply too much bioindividuality...hence why I don't take adderall anymore.


There is proof that modafinil and methylphenidate (Provigil and Ritalin) improve chess performance: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X1...


The anti-doping stuff has gone too far. It's like the zero tolerance policies in schools where students are expelled for bringing a 1cm long lego gun to school.

In addition to the points that this is a legal drug, was probably prescribed for a legitimate use, and isn't performance enhancing for bridge, there's the issue where actual drugs that are performance enhancing for bridge, like caffeine, are not banned.


Can’t have Bezos Prime intimdating others at the bridge table.


I thought it was going to be a stimulant like adderall, which probably would give a bridge player a significant advantage.


related xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1173/


Well, I guess he burned that bridge XD




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