Thursday, July 15, 2010

Caffeine = Doping?

Various news outlets are reporting that the World Anti-Doping Agency ("WADA") is considering adding caffeine (back on) to the prohibited list. Reading the reports made me think of a tennis doping case I worked on back in 2003. The appeal involved Martin Rodriguez, a journeyman tennis player from Argentina.

After WADA dropped caffeine from the prohibited list on January 1, 2004, I thought I would be the last (only?) attorney ever to represent a player in such a caffeine-related appeal. A strict liability standard applies to most substances on the prohibited list. In other words, the presence of the prohibited substance, whatever the amount, can trigger a positive test. Caffeine, in contrast, is allowed up to a certain point. The cut-off for caffeine in 2003 was 12 micrograms per milliliter. Any amount of caffeine above such cut-off would trigger a positive test. Lesser amount were permitted.

Caffeine is a unique drug. Its use is pervasive, as it is found in coffee, soda pop, chocolate, and a number of other common food products. At low to moderate levels of consumption, the general consensus appears to be that caffeine can be helpful athletically and cognitively. At excessive levels, it is unlikely that caffeine would be a "performance enhancer" under WADA's guidelines. This is especially true in sports requiring a high degree of motor control. Perhaps this is the reason WADA dropped caffeine from the prohibited list a few months after the appeal in the Rodriguez case. If caffeine is re-introduced to the prohibited list, I will be curious to see what the threshold (if any) is for a positive test. Similarly, it will be interesting to see whether coffee manufacturers augment their sponsorship of sporting events. The loss of sponsorship revenue for certain sporting events may be one unintended result of caffeine regulation by the doping authorities. Stay tuned...