May 24, 2024

Stringent process: How does the doping test work during Asian Games?

Stringent process: How does the doping test work during Asian Games?
Art by Royce Nicdao

The Philippines got shaken up—literally and figuratively—on Friday morning with a magnitude 5.2 earthquake in Batangas and the news that Gilas Pilipinas player Justin Brownlee tested positive for a prohibited substance in the 19th Asian Games.


His sample was found to have traces of carboxy-THC, "a specified prohibited substance," according to the International Testing Agency's (ITA) announcement. Carboxy-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is usually linked to cannabis use. 

Needless to say, Filipinos were not too happy with the timing of the announcement. 

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is now looking into Brownlee's medication, and whether it has the ITC component, according to Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino on Friday. He told News5 that they have until October 19 to respond to ITA and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). 

It can be recalled that the 35-year-old Brownlee underwent a "non-basketball medical procedure" during preparations for the FIBA World Cup. 

But how do the anti-doping rules of the OCA, the governing body of sports in Asia, work?

Prohibited list of substances and methods

According to its website, the OCA follows the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of substances and methods banned in sports.

A substance or method may be included in the prohibited list of WADA if it meets at least two of three criteria: Whether it has the potential to enhance sports performance, whether it represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete, or whether it violates the spirit of the sport.

The prohibited list also has three subdivisions: Whether the substances and methods are prohibited at all times, whether these are prohibited in-competition, or whether substances are prohibited in particular sports.

In Brownlee's case, carboxy-THC is a specified prohibited substance. THC is designated as among the "substances of abuse," along with cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, since these are "frequently abused in society outside of the context of sport."

Cannabinoids are prohibited in-competition, according to WADA. These include natural ones found in cannabis and cannabis products, synthetic THCs, as well as synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC.

Athletes and their medical teams are advised to check their prescribed and over-the-counter medications against the prohibited list. The OCA also advises "thorough research" with the risk-benefit analysis of taking supplements.

Testing procedures

The in-competition period starts at 11:59 p.m. on the day before an athlete is scheduled to participate up until the end of the actual competition.

The OCA states that when a substance is prohibited in-competition, it must leave the athlete’s system by the time the competition begins. It does not mean that the athlete must stop taking the substance only by the time the in-competition period begins.

Under WADA's rules, an athlete's urine or blood can be collected anytime and anywhere. He or she will be notified regarding doping control and will be asked to sign a form confirming the understanding of rights and responsibilities. This is also called random testing. It is not unusual for an athlete to be tested after the competition.

Upon reporting to the doping control station, the athlete will need to provide a minimum amount of 90 milliliters of urine. Disrobing from knees to navel, and from hands to elbow is required to show no obstructions in passing the sample. A chaperone is allowed to observe the process.

The sample collection kit is split into the A and B bottles. The B bottle is filled up first, followed by the A bottle, which will then be sealed.

Upon ensuring that the samples are not too diluted to analyze, the samples will be sent to a WADA-accredited laboratory. The A sample will be analyzed first, while the B sample gets stored in case further testing is required.

Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)

The OCA acknowledges that people may have illnesses or conditions that would require them to take particular medications. Thus, certain medications or methods may be allowed under the TUE.

But the criteria for getting a TUE certificate is stringent and must follow the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (ISTUE).

Under the OCA's rules, an athlete must have a clear diagnosed medical condition, which requires the treatment to use a prohibited substance. This must not produce significant performance enhancement beyond an athlete's normal state of health.

The substance must also be an indicated treatment and there is no reasonable permitted therapeutic alternative.

Possible appeal

Tolentino explained that the SBP has the option to appeal the result of the A sample or request an analysis of the B sample. The SBP has yet to issue a statement, as of writing.

Brownlee was an integral part of Gilas Pilipinas, which won the gold medal in the Asian Games for the first time in 61 years.

Article 11.2 of the rules of WADA and the OCA state that in team sports, loss of points, disqualification, and other such sanctions would only take effect if "more than two members" were found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation.

Tolentino confirmed that there were no other positive results reported among the rest of Gilas Pilipinas.