A Chinese basketball star appealed his suspension for failing a doping test by arguing that he must have accidentally ingested the banned substance through something he ate. Such allegedly inadvertent doping incidents have become so common that the Chinese Basketball Association has told teams to require their players to eat all meals in team hotels.
Tao Hanlin, star player for the Shandong Hi-speed team in the CBA, failed a doping test prior to a game on November 29. He has been suspended from league play since then. The Shandong team has lost 5 of 8 games since Tao was suspended.
Tao tested positive for "lean meat powder" (瘦肉精), a colloquial name used in China for a class of beta agonists that are used to build muscle. Clenbuterol is the most common one. These compounds are used by bodybuilders to build muscle mass, but farmers also use them (illegally) to raise pigs and other livestock with a higher proportion of muscle instead of fat. The use of beta agonists in raising livestock has been banned in China since 2000.
Tao claimed that he must have ingested the banned substance accidentally from food that he ate. A league hearing held on December 20 confirmed Tao's claim that he accidentally ingested the banned substance, but his suspension has not yet been lifted. The National Sports Bureau is reportedly reviewing the results of the league's investigation before a final decision is announced.
Beijing Youth Daily reports that alleged inadvertent doping tests in China's basketball league are on the upswing. Tao's teammate, Jia Cheng, has also been suspended for failing a drug test. Jia's story is that he accidentally ingested a banned substance when he used an herbal balm to recover from injuries before an international competition last summer. In previous seasons other players have blamed their failed drug tests on substances in food. One such player got off with a warning instead of a suspension last season.
League officials have urged teams to require their players to eat with the team in their hotel or training facility. Moreover, they recommend requiring the hotel to keep records of all the food served and save samples of meat for at least 3 days.
Some players complain that such draconian rules would be hard to enforce. It would be unreasonable to ban players from going out after games or having dinner with friends, some players say.
Inadvertent failure of drug tests by athletes has been a concern since Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008. Special pig farms were set up to supply Olympic facilities and athletes were forbidden to eat outside the Olympic Village. Two years ago, this blog posted a review of cases where Chinese athletic teams were forbidden to eat outside their training facilities to avoid inadvertent consumption of beta agonists.
In 2015, Ministry of Agriculture testing showed that only 4 percent of meat samples were rejected, and an official claimed the problem was under control. During 2016, the Ministry launched a tighter inspection regime for hog slaughter plants, and one of the priorities was to prevent beta agonists from entering the meat supply. The inspection uncovered 4839 cases of illegal behavior, but did not say how many involved beta agonists. This year's campaign also closed 2715 illegal butchering operations.