Xenon, Argon usage banned by WADA, four year bans move closer

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Confirming indications earlier this year that it would likely prohibit the use of xenon gas due to the method of using it to effect changes in blood levels, the World Anti Doping Agency WADA has said that both it and the usage of another substance have been banned.

“WADA has completed its amendment to Section S2.1 of the 2014 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods,” said the agency in a statement. “Hypoxia-Inducible Factor (HIF) activators Xenon and Argon have been added to the 2014 Prohibited List, following the required three-month notice period and UNESCO’s communication to all States Parties.”

The adjusted section in the WADA Code now lists the following as being banned under that Section S2.1:

Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agents [e.g. erythropoietin (EPO), darbepoetin (dEPO), hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) stabilizers and activators (e.g. xenon, argon), methoxy polyethylene glycol-epoetin beta (CERA), peginesatide (Hematide)].

Xenon and argon work by provoking an increase in the body’s own production of EPO, thus driving up the red blood cell levels over time.

In February The Economist published an article suggesting that Russian athletes had been using xenon gas as a performance-enhancing substances for a decade or more.

It emerged that on March 20, 2006, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee had sent a letter to the director of the ZAO Atom-Med Center thanking the researcher and his team for helping to “prepare” the Russian national team for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Of the 22 Russian athletes that won medals at those Games, 15 had used a xenon-based mixture of gases as part of their preparation. This preparation program that had been officially approved by the Russian government.

In addition to that, a preparation prepared four years ago by the same ZAO Atom-Med Center suggested that “xenon-based recovery methodology will aid Russian athletes in London (2012) and Sochi (2014) Olympic Games”.

It was indeed rumoured that the gas was used by the country’s competitors in the buildup to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

[For a detailed analysis of this subject, see the feature ‘Xenon gas as a performance-enhancing drug: doping or just hot air?’ here]

Speaking to CyclingTips in May, a WADA spokesman said then that measures were being made to tackle the use of the gas.

“Xenon has been added to the draft 2015 Prohibited List,” he said. “The draft List is open for consultation and for comments from stakeholders between now and the Executive Committee meeting in September, at which time it will be discussed once again and approved.”

That approval has now been reached ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile a mandatory four year ban for serious doping offences and increased liability for athlete support personnel look set to come into practice when the revised WADA Code comes into effect on January 1.

Under the new rules, coaches, trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, and National Olympic Committees will be more liable if athletes are implicated in doping violations. Such occurrences will automatically bring about an investigation of athlete support personnel.

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