Britain’s Daily Mail reports that top UK athletes allege they were repeatedly encouraged by team doctors to have their thyroids checked, even when they exhibited no symptoms, leading to speculation about the use of thyroid medications to boost their performance. The report echoes the report by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that former Nike Oregon Project Alberto Salazar inappropriately used thyroid medication with athletes.
UK athletics drug shock: British stars claim governing body encouraged use of thyroid medication to enhance performance https://t.co/N0whE2tqRW
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) November 28, 2019
The report claims that Salazar worked as a consultant to UK Athletics for a period of time beginning in 2013.
This is only the latest in a series of issues plaguing British athletics. Head coach Neil Black, known to be a strong supporter of Salazar’s, resigned shortly after the ban was announced, in the midst of the World Championships, from which British athletes brought home a disappointing five medals. UK Athletics also announced it would mount an investigation into why one of its top athletes, Sir Mo Farah, was encouraged to continue training with Salazar at the NOP in 2015 after Salazar came under investigation by USADA. And last week the newly appointed UKA chair, Zara Hyde Peters, was forced to step down before taking up her duties when it was discovered that her husband, who had been banned from teaching after an “inappropriate relationship” with a 15-year-old girl, had been allowed to coach at the club where Hyde Peters was vice chair.
Medications to improve thyroid function, including L-thyroxine and Cynomel, are not on WADA’s list of prohibited substances (and do not even require a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE), though both USADA and UK Anti-Doping have called for them to be banned except in cases where a need is clearly demonstrated. Such medications, which can lead to serious heart issues when taken inappropriately, are known to aid weight loss, which is perceived to lead to faster times on the track. In the wake of being banned from athletics, Salazar has been the subject of numerous reports that he was obsessive about female athletes’ weight, publicly shaming those he thought were too heavy.
The report quotes athletes Jo Pavey and Matthew Yates, who say thyroid medications should be banned except in cases where they are necessary to maintain adequate thyroid function, and only with a TUE. The rate of hypothyroidism is estimated at one in 20 in females and one in 100 in males, and a physician consulted by the paper claimed that inappropriate use of thyroid medication can lead to serious heart issues. One athlete claims they were tested after a race and encouraged to visit their family doctor to confirm a suspicious result, but that a second test showed a normal result. In another case, an athlete who tested negative was encouraged to take another test after a hard workout, which can influence the result.
The report names Dr. Robert Chakraverty, chief medical officer for UK Athletics from 2013 to 2016 and his successor, Dr Noel Pollock, as having encouraged the tests.