Rome: World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials could consider proposing changes to rules regarding the banned anabolic clenbuterol at a meeting in Montreal next week, WADA science director Olivier Rabin said on Tuesday.
Spain`s Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol in last year`s race but said he had inadvertently consumed the substance in contaminated meat.
Five Mexico players also tested positive for clenbuterol this month but the country`s soccer federation has attributed the results to meat eaten on a training camp in Mexico ahead of the Gold Cup tournament being hosted by the United States.
Speaking ahead of a symposium on doping detection, Rabin said officials may have found "a way forward" allowing "context" to be considered before an automatic two-year ban was imposed on athletes testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug.
"There are very few cases of clenbuterol so it`s not impossible to handle on a case-by-case basis," Rabin said.
"We could make recommendations to the WADA executive committee to say over some level it`s definitely doping, and at another level it could be further consideration in a context of previous results or future results of the athlete.”
The WADA board would have to approve any changes at its meeting in September but proposals could be firmed up at a WADA Laboratory Expert Group Meeting in Montreal next week.
"The fear of meat contamination by doping substances is nothing new. Before it was testosterone and now we are facing clenbuterol. With a limited number of countries there is the risk that meat can be contaminated by clenbuterol, something which is in the scientific literature," said Rabin.
"We have to be careful because the concentration is not always the same order of magnitude," said Rabin.
"We have take into account the context. We are reviewing the data and may make recommendations to the executive committee, who could make an adjustment to the rules, if needed, or they could say we want it to remain at the same level."
Three-time Tour de France champion Contador had been suspended from cycling in September after traces of clenbuterol were found in his urine and he was initially handed a one-year ban by the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC).
However, his suspension was lifted in February with the Spanish federation accepting the rider`s explanation that he had eaten contaminated meat.
WADA and the International Cycling Union (UCI) have appealed against that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but until a decision in August, Contador is free to defend his Tour title in the July 2-24 showpiece event.
While Contador may have tested positive for tiny traces of clenbuterol, Rabin said it was more than quantity that would be the deciding factor on any ban handed out to an athlete.
"We cannot say just because it`s a low level (of clenbuterol) it can`t be doping," he said. "Any amount can reflect doping. That`s the difficulty of the situation -- it could be doping or it could be something else."
The clenbuterol drug, used in cattle farming to build up muscle and reduce fat, has produced positive tests on athletes performing in China as well as Mexico although Rabin said Spain has tight health standards in meat production.
"In Europe meat control is fairly strict with farmers facing jail and heavy fines but we`ve had China and Mexico that have had cases, two countries exposed in the media," he said.
"WADA have contacted different governments involved and they ensure us that all measures are now being taken to make sure food is well controlled before being given to athletes, so there are ways and means of controlling meal contamination."
The two-day Rome meeting of scientists, from June 15-16, will also focus on ways of detecting peptide hormones in the blood, an increasingly common practice by dopers.
"We have new techniques and technologies in the industry, but we have to acknowledge there are more products out there today, about 120 EPOs compared to 20 less than a decade ago," said Rabin.
"The question is how to make a strong link between an athlete`s body fluids and doping practice -- transfusion. We do not necessarily have a connection between the two. Yes, we have different methods but can they can stand up legally?"