Brazilian beach volleyball star Pedro Salgado was suspended for an alleged positive drug test last summer. As it turns out, the test was botched informed volleyball.about.com.
Now the lab that conducted the test is itself under suspension. Turnabout is indeed fair play, but the lab’s suspension pales in comparison to what could be long-lasting effects on Salgado’s career.
The facts are these: Salgado provided an out-of-competition sample to the lab on May 30th of last year. The FIVB was informed on July 8th that the sample contained a banned substance called androstane. Salgado was suspended from playing on the FIVB Tour for about a month but was re-instated when there was a delay in testing the second sample for confirmation. On August 12th, the lab reported that the “B” sample had also come back positive .
Fortunately for Salgado, the documentation that the lab included in their findings revealed some “analytical issues” that prompted the FIVB to request additional testing at a different lab. The sample was sent to Cologne, Germany for re-testing and on October 21st the German lab issued a report that the sample was clean.
Salgado was immediately cleared of the charges and now the Brazilian lab that conducted the botched test is in the same hot water it put Pedro in just months before. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has suspended the lab for six months.
Looking over the facts here, some obvious questions arise. First, why did it take five weeks for the lab to report the positive test to the FIVB? Second, why did it take the lab so long to test the second sample? Third, how bad must the documentation have been for the FIVB to realize immediately that this lab was incompetent at best?
The scary part is that this Brazilian lab is the country’s only accredited testing facility. The suspension is only partial in nature. The lab will still be receiving samples to test throughout its suspension, though it is not authorized to use the type of test that failed on Salgado’s sample. After this fiasco, how can anyone trust any test this lab performs no matter what method is used? This lab should have to face the same credibility issues that Salgado had to face as he proclaimed his innocence to mostly deaf ears. At the very least, any objections to this lab’s findings from now on will have instantaneous merit.
Considering the circumstances, it does not seem inappropriate that the lab be shut down altogether. Producing false positive tests on both A and B samples is a big deal. Salgado is a young, up-and-coming likely superstar. This could have ruined his career. Fortunately it did not, but the effects of the false positive test will reverberate for a long time. Salgado has had his name dragged through the mud, his reputation sullied and a new partnership thwarted.
During his suspension, Salgado traveled to the U.S. to play in the Hermosa Beach Open with American Casey Jennings. The two ended up winning the thing. But some fans were uncomfortable with USAV’s decision to let Salgado play despite the FIVB suspension. Having seen this scenario unfold many times before, fans were understandably skeptical of Salgado’s innocence. How many times have we watched it? The test comes back positive, the athlete claims ignorance and/or innocence for a while and then is forced to concede that he did indeed take performance enhancing drugs. Once these labs submit the positive results the court of public opinion gets roaring.
Add to that the fact that at the time of the false positive, Salgado’s partner Pedro Cunha was injured and Salgado was just about to join forces with Ricardo, one of the best Brazilian beach players who had recently ended a successful partnership with Marcio-Araujo.
With Salgado ineligible, Ricardo instead picked up Cunha, who just happened to heal up in time to play in the remaining tournaments. Together Cunha/Ricardo won two FIVB events in Klaagenfurt, Austria and City of the Hague, Netherlands.
Salgado returned to the tour with Rhooney Ferramenta, finishing 9th in the Netherlands and placing third at the last event in Morocco. Not a bad take considering the drama he went through. But the chance to play with Ricardo may have passed him by and with it, his chances at the Olympics. The Brazilian Federation can still step in and place Salgado with Ricardo in the run up to London, or he can qualify with another partner but of course nothing is assured.
The Brazilian lab that botched the test will need to get its act together soon because it is expected to be responsible for drug testing in two huge upcoming events – the 2014 World Cup (soccer) and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. By then, this lab will probably have changed its name and started over with a clean slate. Salgado doesn’t have that option.
The stories about the positive test are many and they will live forever on the web. One can’t Google his name without pulling them up. Some will look deeper and find the news that the test was a false positive. Some won’t. And there is nothing anyone can do about that.