By Jeff Jones
The World Anti-Doping Agency is considering banning altitude tents, devices used by athletes that create hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions in order to stimulate the production of more red blood cells. Such devices are "probably contrary to the spirit of the sport," according to WADA's ethics committee, and they will be one of the subjects of discussion at WADA's upcoming meeting on May 13-14 in Montreal.
In a pre-meeting briefing, WADA president Dick Pound said, "We have an interesting discussion forthcoming with respect to the whole issue of hypoxic chambers and the whole concept of artificially induced hypoxic conditions. This has been an issue that has gone back and forth in the sports community and the business community for a number of years.
"Our medical authorities agree that the creation of these conditions can be performance enhancing. Our ethics and education committee has concluded that the use of these devices is probably contrary to the spirit of sport, and it will be up to the executive committee to decide how it wants to proceed with it.
"If the executive committee wants to get further input on it, I think one of the possibilities will be to add this to the draft list that will be circulated with respect to 2007. As you know, that is a list that is widely circulated for consultation, reaction and response to something in excess of 1500 stakeholders and others involved in laboratory work and so forth, so we'll get additional input on that before deciding definitively in September whether or not it goes onto the list."
Currently, many of the top professional cyclists use altitude tents, which up until now have always been legal. Training and living at altitude is also legal, and presumably will remain so. But if WADA does decide to ban hypoxic tents, then it will have to consider the issue of enforcing the ban. Bedroom raids or an honesty system, anyone?