Contaminated meat a worry at worlds


ROME -- With more than 2,000 swimmers, divers and water polo players converging on Shanghai this week for the world championships, teams are taking precautions against the threat of contaminated Chinese meat.

Australia is shipping in its meat from home and avoiding all pork products. Other teams plan to eat only in hotels accredited by swimming's governing body.

Chemical additives have been linked to cattle- and pig-raising in China. A recent study by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Cologne, Germany, found that 22 of 28 travelers returning from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol.

Clenbuterol is on WADA's list of banned substances as an anabolic agent that builds muscle and burns fat, and athletes who test positive can face bans of up to two years.

The worlds, with diving starting Saturday and swimming on July 24, already face a doping issue. Cesar Cielo of Brazil might be allowed to defend his 50- and 100-meter freestyle titles despite testing positive for the banned substance furosemide. An appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is pending.

Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol en route to winning last year's Tour de France. He blamed contaminated meat, and the Spanish cycling federation accepted his explanation. He is awaiting a definitive ruling from the CAS.

"You cannot control everything you eat all around the world," FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The Associated Press recently from Shanghai. "Probably the price is going to be to mostly consume at the hotel. But that doesn't mean that outside the hotel it's a problem."

Still, Australia has decided to lodge its athletes at a hotel with an Australian general manager.

"All of our meat will come from Australia," coach Leigh Nugent said last week. "And we won't be eating any pork products."

USA Swimming normally provides food and protein sources for athletes at major competitions.

"This is provided outside of what is served at the venue and hotels in order to ensure the athletes have sufficient energy sources to perform at the optimal level," said Stacy Michael-Miller, USA Swimming's athlete services manager.

Cameron van der Burgh, the 50-meter breaststroke world record-holder from South Africa, is confident that FINA and local organizers will make sure the food is safe.

"Obviously, the hotel we'll be at in Shanghai will be catering for the athletes," Van der Burgh said at a meet in Rome last month. "Maybe don't go out to a local bar and eat some meat or something, which we don't really do anyway when you're racing because you want to prepare and stay in your room and rest."

Italy isn't worried, either.

"Pasta isn't a problem," said Italy team coordinator Marco Bonifazi, also a professor of physiology at the University of Siena and the head physician for the Italian swimming federation's study and research center.

"We're not going to go inspect the meat," said Bonifazi, adding the Italians will be urged to avoid red meat and to eat more fish or certain packaged meats.

Bonifazi was not aware of athletes testing positive for clenbuterol in China, but there have been numerous cases.

On the day after his return from a meet in China last year, German table tennis player Dimitrij Ovtcharov tested positive for clenbuterol traces. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist blamed food eaten at his hotel. Hints of clenbuterol showed up in the urine of four other German players who competed at the same tournament, supporting his claim.

The German federation decided not to ban Ovtcharov, and WADA chose not to appeal.

Polish canoeist Adam Seroczynski claimed that his positive test at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the result of "food tampering" by organizers who fed him contaminated meat, but the CAS rejected his claims and upheld his two-year ban.

As far back as 1999, Chinese swimmers Wang Wei and Xiong Guoming blamed a dish of stir-fried pig liver for their out-of-competition clenbuterol positives.

They had compelling evidence: Tests on 60 liver samples bought subsequently from the same stall in Shanghai detected clenbuterol in 11 of them, according to the report from the swimmers' disciplinary hearing, which FINA provided to the AP this year.

The panel agreed there was "some likelihood" that the swimmers didn't deliberately take clenbuterol but still ruled that if liver was the cause, the swimmers were negligent. They were banned for three years.

About 2,220 athletes from at least 181 countries will compete in Shanghai, down from the 2,438 athletes at the last worlds in Rome two years ago after new qualifying standards were introduced for swimming.