WADA defends salbutamol test after Chris Froome was cleared of wrongdoing

The World Anti-Doping Agency has defended its salbutamol test after Chris
Froome was cleared of wrongdoing despite returning a sample with high levels of
the asthma drug during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome successfully argued that his reading was the result of factors including illness and dehydration as he neared the end of a three-week race on course to victory.

Froome’s case had been ongoing since last September, when he was found to have more than the permissible amount of asthma drug salbutamol in his system when he returned a urine sample during the Vuelta a Espana.

The outcome led to questions over whether WADA’s test was fit for purpose if an athlete could avoid a charge for a test that was over the specified limits.

In a statement on Tuesday night, WADA said: “Each case is assessed on its own merits and this decision changes nothing about the test or the regime.

“At present, there is no evidence that a change to the threshold or decision limit for salbutamol is required. WADA has noted some public comments questioning the salbutamol threshold and how it was determined.

“It should be pointed out that studies conducted over the past 10 years – both WADA-funded and independent – have reinforced the legitimacy of the current threshold.”

Athletes are allowed to take more than 800mcg per 12 hours of salbutamol or 1,600mcg over 24 hours, for which the test threshold is set at 1,200 ng/ml in a urine sample. Froome’s result, adjusted for gravity, equated to 1,428 ng/ml.

As salbutamol is a specified substance rather than an outright banned one, the rules permit athletes to offer an explanation for such readings rather than automatically triggering an anti-doping charge.

“In the Froome case, the test was applied the same as for any other athlete by looking at the unique physiological and circumstantial details that could be clearly determined,” WADA said.

0:24 Chris Froome tells Sky Sports News he still plans to treat asthma symptoms as and when they occcur on the Tour de France.

Froome’s case should have remained confidential as no anti-doping charge was brought, but details were leaked in December and it played out in the public gaze until the UCI’s announcement last week that the investigation had closed.

During that time there was much discussion of similar cases which had ended in suspensions for athletes, but with others having remained confidential WADA sought to offer some context.

It said that between 2013 and 2017 there had been 41 completed cases in which salbutamol was the only substance of interest, with eight of those resulting in acquittal of the athlete, and 21 resulting in suspensions.

WADA said the remaining 12 cases resulted either in reprimands, were explained by valid Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) or were from sports not signed up to the WADA code.

Of the 57 cases that included salbutamol either on its own or with another substance, eight cases resulted in acquittal, and 30 out of 57 resulted in suspensions.

Specifically relating to cycling, WADA said there had been four cases not including Froome’s, with three resulting in suspensions.