ROME -- World Anti-Doping Agency lab experts will meet next week to consider changing its rules regarding clenbuterol, the drug that Alberto Contador tested positive for at last year's Tour de France.
Contador said he inadvertently consumed the substance in contaminated meat and was cleared by the Spanish cycling federation earlier this year. An appeal by WADA and the International Cycling Federation to the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be heard in August.
In another clenbuterol case, five Mexico soccer players tested positive and were removed from the CONCACAF Gold Cup last week. Mexico blamed the positive tests, which occurred during a pre-tournament training camp on the outskirts of Mexico City, on contaminated meat.
"I've personally reviewed several of these cases and I think we've got a way forward that makes a lot of sense and we want to discuss with our experts," WADA science director Olivier Rabin said Tuesday at a WADA symposium.
Under current WADA rules, any amount of clenbuterol is considered doping, unless athletes can prove they consumed the drug inadvertently and were not to blame. The meeting in Montreal next week could lead to the installment of a fixed level of clenbuterol over which no excuses are valid.
"That could be one of their recommendations," Rabin said. "You may say there is a value above which we know it's doping. There may be a value under which we would say you need further investigation, so it could be classified as an atypical finding. Or it could be classified as a typical finding which means it's a result that deserves further consideration in a certain context, including previous results from the athlete or future results from the athlete."
Rabin would not say how any possible rule changes could affect Contador's case.
However, any changes would have to be approved at the WADA board meeting in September, and wouldn't go into effect until at least next year. Big rule changes are unlikely until the global conference in Johannesburg in 2013, where the World Anti-Doping Code will be revised.
Currently, all positive tests for clenbuterol are handled on a case-by-case basis, which is feasible, Rabin said, because there are not so many cases.
Clenbuterol is prevalent in meat in Mexico and China, presenting a risk for athletes at next month's swimming world championships in Shanghai. The solution, Rabin said, is for organizers and swimming governing body FINA to make sure athletes are given well-checked meat, like at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Things went extremely well because they have taken appropriate measures to make sure that the food was well controlled before it was given to the athletes," Rabin said. "So there are ways and means to prevent this kind of risk of meat contamination."
The symposium in the Italian capital gathered physicians from around the globe to discuss the latest developments and challenges in detection of hormonal doping, such as EPO.
Rabin noted that there are 120 different types of EPO now, compared to just a handful a decade ago.
"This is constant work," he said. "We always need to look to the future and have constant research."
Rome lab director Francesco Botre revealed plans to develop a test to detect Human Growth Hormone (HGH) as long as 10 days after use -- compared to one or two days with the current test -- by next year's London Olympics.
"There are some plans to develop such a test," Rabin said.
As for caffeine, which has been on WADA's monitoring program since an IOC ban was lifted at the end of 2003, Rabin said experts are still trying to determine a universal threshold that could determine where normal use ends and abuse begins.
"At this point we don't go beyond monitoring it," Rabin said. "There is no plan today to include caffeine on the prohibited list."