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Singh Cleared by PGA Tour; Withdraws from Wells Fargo Championship
On Tuesday, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced that Vijay Singh has been cleared of a doping violation. The announcement was made at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., site of this week's Wells Fargo Championship, a $6.7 million Tour event that starts Thursday.
Singh, a 2005 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee and winner of 34 Tour titles - including three majors, admitted in late January during an interview with Sports Illustrated that he used deer-antler spray. The substance, which contains IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor), is banned by the PGA Tour and other major sports organizations as it's a performance-enhancer connected to a human-growth hormone.
Singh was quoted in SI as saying he used the substance "every couple of hours, every day" and was "looking forward to some change in my body."
After the SI article was published, Singh said in a statement: "While I have used deer antler spray, at no time was I aware that it may contain a substance that is banned under the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Policy." (Singh was slated to play this week in the Wells Fargo Championship. He had no comment following Finchem's press conference on Tuesday, and then withdrew 24 hours before the start of the event on Wednesday.)
Singh said then he was unaware that he had used a banned substance. After hearing of the Fijian's comments in SI, Finchem said Singh had been sanctioned by the Tour, but the 50-year-old appealed the ruling. On Tuesday, Finchem explained that Singh was cleared because the status of deer antler spray had been changed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
"During the appeal process, PGA Tour counsel contacted WADA to confirm a number of technical points," Finchem said, reading from a prepared statement. "At that time, WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results."
Finchem went into considerable detail during his press conference at Quail Hollow. Below is the full transcript of his statement and a subsequent Q&A.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are joined today by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who would like to make some comments and then we'll open it up to the room for questions. Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you very much. Delighted to see such a good turn out here today, and we're delighted to be back at Quail Hollow. Looking forward to the Players Championship next week. I have a statement I'd like to read to you which as I get into it you'll find to be self explanatory in nature. This is a PGA Tour statement regarding Vijay Singh.
The PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program, which has been in effect since July 2008, closely follows the International Anti-Doping standard set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency generally referred to as WADA particularly as it relates to the interpretation and application of the list of prohibited substances and methods.
In a January 28, 2013 article it appeared on SI.com, Vijay Singh was quoted as admitting to his use of a deer antler spray supplement. Subsequently Mr. Singh confirmed his use of deer antler spray in a statement he issued. Deer antler spray contained IGF 1, a growth factor listed on both the WADA and PGA Tour prohibited lists, which the Tour warned players about in August of 2011. After the SI.com article came out, WADA also issued a warning about deer antler spray on February 5th, 2013.
There is no test for IGF 1 currently available in routine blood testing. However, the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Policy provides that an admission to the use of a substance is a violation of the policy even if there is no positive test. After confirming the presence of IGF 1 in the deer antler spray product provided to the Tour by Mr. Singh through tests at the WADA approved UCLA laboratory, the Tour proceeded with the matter as a violation of the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Policy and a sanction was issued.
Mr. Singh subsequently appealed the sanction under the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program guidelines. During the appeal process, PGA Tour counsel contacted WADA to confirm a number of technical points. At that time, WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results. Indeed, on April 30th, WADA subsequently provided written confirmation to the Tour that:
In relation to your pending IGF 1 matter this is a communication from WADA to us In relation to your pending IGF 1 matter, it is the position of WADA in applying the prohibited list, that the use of "deer antler spray" (which is know to contain small amounts of IGF 1) is not considered prohibited. On the other hand, it should be known that deer antler spray contains small amounts of IGF 1 that may affect anti-doping tests.
Players should be warned that in the case of a positive test for IGF 1 or HGH, it would be considered an adverse analytical finding.
Based on this new information and given WADA's lead role in interpreting the prohibited list, the TOUR deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr. Singh's use of deer antler spray as a violation of the Tour's Anti-Doping Program. Since his initial quote was made public, Mr. Singh has cooperated with the Tour investigation and has been completely forthcoming and honest. While there was no reason to believe that Mr. Singh knowingly took a prohibited substance, the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program clearly states that players are responsible for use of a prohibited substance regardless of intent. In this regard, Mr. Singh should have contacted the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program administrator or other resources readily available to players in order to verify that the product Mr. Singh was about to utilize did not contain any prohibited substances, especially in light of the warning issued in 2011 in relation to deer antler spray.
Going forward, the PGA Tour is committed to increasing its educational initiatives to remind players of the PGA Tour Anti-Doping Program and the risk of utilizing any product without a full understanding of the ingredients contained in that product.
Such educational initiatives will include reinforcing with its members the many resources available to them on a 24/7 basis to respond to any questions they may have concerning any product.
The PGA Tour recognizes that the science of Anti-Doping is an ever evolving subject, and the Tour will continue to work with its consultants and WADA to stay abreast of all current developments in this area. This will include staying abreast of developing policies and procedures, specifically with regard to testing for growth hormone and IGF 1.
When fully implemented tests for those substances become available in routine blood testing, the Tour will continue to monitor the situation and make changes to the policy as necessary or appropriate.
That is the end of the prepared statement which will be distributed to you. The bottom line is that given the change by WADA we are dropping the case against Mr. Singh.
Q. Was Vijay actually suspended and then did he appeal, or did you just take a look at this process?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: As I indicated in the statement, there was a sanction entered against Vijay Singh and it was under appeal at the time we learned of this information.
Q. Just for my chronology, when was the sanction issued and when did Vijay appeal? Do you have those dates?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: The date that the sanction was entered do we have that date? February 19th.
Q. And he appealed?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: He appealed seven days later. He has seven days to appeal.
Q. Is there any move under foot to include blood testing in your Anti-Doping tests?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there is and there has been. There has been a test out there for HGH, which was tossed out in an action with, I think, a Scandinavian swimmer or skier just about a month ago. So there currently is no recognized blood test. When I say recognized, I mean, a test that WADA says, okay, you can go and use this test, and if it's a positive test, that means there's doping involved. There is no such test.
We know and we have invested at some point in efforts to bring such a test forward. The lack of such a test has been the, not the only difficulty, but certainly a major difficulty in the team sports in moving toward a way to measure for human growth hormone. With respect to IGF, under the current as I indicated, there is no test currently available in a normal blood test, and the difficulty with IGF is, in addition to doing a test, is identifying a reasonable level from which if you exceed, you're considered doping. We all have IGF in our systems all the time.
Q. Tennis, because of what you just said, they are going to be continuing a biological passport program so therefore they can monitor people's levels. Is that in the future a consideration?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, it's my understanding of the science that that particular direction is particularly helpful in areas like EPO, not necessarily helpful in areas like IGF 1. The only thing that we don't test for, that we miss without a blood test in today's science we don't miss HGH because you really can't test for HGH today. The only thing that's out there that you could test for with blood testing that we do miss is blood transfusion-related activity which is primarily EPO.
We have looked at that candidly. At this point in time we're not convinced that it matters in our sport. We're in conversations with WADA about it. And it's our understanding as the doping list evolves now in the next couple of years, it's going to become more sport specific as opposed to the broad list that applies to all sports. So we're watching that on the blood transfusion EPO area, and we're also watching the signs as it relates to testing for growth factors, growth hormones, and IGF.
Q. It's a little confusing here. On the one hand WADA says you can't really test properly for IGF. Then, if I heard you correctly, they said you're not considered guilty even if you confess to something that has IGF in it unless there is a positive test.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't want to put words I'm reading you the exact language on those points that WADA has given.
Q. Do you understand it?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I do, I think. I think what's really let me see how I can say this. We're talking about a determination that was made by scientists at WADA that relate to the consumption through deer antler spray of a technically violative substance, IGF 1, but in looking at it, the scientists concluded it resulted in infinitesimal amounts actually being taken into the recipient's body. Amounts that couldn't be distinguished even if you had an accurate test with the amounts that you might take into your body from milk, et cetera. Versus the question of what would happen in a case where, for whatever reason, you managed to take in enough IGF 1 so that it did trigger a positive reading, it's not possible today.
Because a positive reading means that you're surpassing a certain level. There hasn't been any level ever set. So it's kind of like I view it as kind of cross checking the box language. We're going to say that it's not on the list for purposes of consumption. But just know that we're not liable here if for some reason or another you managed to trigger a positive test even though there is no test out there. So it is kind of silly, but it is what it is.
Q. Can I follow up one second? Because I want to understand the chronology here. In 2011 (Indiscernible) you warned the players in 2011?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We warned our players that it had come to our attention that that particular product, deer antler spray, contained a banned substance.
Q. Vijay was using deer antler spray, said he used deer antler spray, you found him guilty of using something he was warned not to use, and then WADA changed the rule?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Let me clarify. It's not that we found him that's one choice of words. Under our Doping Code, if you admit which is what he did. He admitted in an article that he had used this substance, it is tantamount to a positive test under our rules. We felt obligated to bring the action because it is technically a violation or was at that point in time, number one. Number two: Even though we actually had heard anecdotally from the medical community musing that these are small amounts, the fact of the matter is we want players to check before they put a substance in their body. So this is one of the reasons you follow the book when it comes to doping. You don't go around the edges.
Q. Can you tell us what the sanction was?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, I won't. If we had entered into if we had completed the process and entered into a suspension, we would have done what the code says, which is to announce the details of the suspension. Since we are looking at this retroactively and saying there was no violation, we're not going to speak to the details of the sanction.
Q. Your Anti-Doping in the policy it says that players are subject to out of competition testing. I talked to 54 players, 10 of the top 15, they've never been tested outside the tournament.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: You've never talked to a player
Q. I would think ten of the top 15 in the world would be the ones most subject.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, that's not true. We treat everybody the same when it comes to testing.
Q. Well, can you give us a general sense of how often players are tested outside of the tournament?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We do not test players often outside of competition. We do look for situations that we think it prudent for players to recognize that we will and have and do test out of competition, and we might look for particular circumstances I'm not going to go into the details of what those are that are worthy of a random test in an out of competition situation. The vast majority of our testing is on site.
Q. Do you have any idea why WADA independently was looking at deer antler spray?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No. At this particular point in time, no.
Q. Secondly, if I remember correctly though your guidelines are long
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: By the way, I received the information about WADA's position on Friday.
Q. If I remember correctly that once you decided to appeal, there was a 45 day process generally?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It's more convoluted than that. The way the process works is that once you file an appeal the Tour and you as the appellant each select an arbiter from the National Association of Arbiters. Then your arbiter and our arbiter meet and decide on a third arbiter, so you have a three man panel. After that, there are briefs submitted to the panel and then a hearing is scheduled, which is mutually accepted by all the arbiters and the Tour and the appellant.
So I think the max timeframe, Andy, would be what? It could be up to 45 days, and we were well into that in this particular situation.
Q. Had you gotten to the hearing stage yet?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, we had not gotten to the hearing stage.
Q. Commissioner, when the question about possible drug use or doping among golfers was first raised, I believe your reaction was similar to a lot of the players in that you didn't feel that this was an issue on the TOUR and there weren't players that were using substances. What is your feeling about it now after going through a process like this?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, it hasn't changed. The real reason that we went to I would say the possibility that we had some players was third in line. I think the first and foremost reason was that there was growing speculation about all sports, and if you didn't test, you ran the risk of that speculation painting a public portrait of a sport that wasn't taking care of its business and that was deteriorating.
I think since the time we made the decision, it's gotten worse with the revelations in the team sports, with the revelations in cycling, with more revelations in track and field. So that was certainly a defensive measure given the image of the sport.
The second reason is we had Olympics on the horizon, and we were looking hard at the Olympics back we did this prior to knowing whether we were going to be in the Olympics. But we certainly knew there was a chance there, and if you're going to be an Olympic sport, you have to go down that road anyway. Then the third reason was maybe there is a chance that somebody is using and if we don't get out ahead of it, it could be an embarrassment to the image of the sport.
We felt strongly that A: We did not have a problem; and B: If we had a problem you see in those days, we didn't have a rule about drugs. It wasn't just about testing. We didn't have banned substances. We felt that if we went to the banned substance list, players would pay attention and take care of their business, which, by everything we see, they have done.
We've had widespread use of our 24/7 communication system to check substances that are about to go into a body. We've had careful usage of therapeutic use exemptions around hospitalization, procedures, things like that, players double checking. We've had fairly robust efforts by players to learn about the do's and don'ts. So there isn't much that's happened that I wouldn't have anticipated.
However, when you get into the doping world, things happen. As I look back on the last five years, I was concerned with what I saw in tennis when we got into this. All kinds of lawsuits. We seem to have avoided a lot of those pitfalls. The problem is that it doesn't take much in this area to change the image of the sport, so you can't let up on it.
I think when you get into one of these actual factual situations you learn lessons and you have to react and take steps to help you avoid in the future.
Q. Given the 2011 warning about deer antler spray, will he be subject to any disciplinary action just based on that warning?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We follow WADA on this stuff. We follow, with a few exceptions, the entire list of substances that are banned. We refer to them and defer to them really on the science of these issues as to what's on the list. The fact of the matter here is as some people in the medical community pointed out when this matter came up, and now science at WADA has looked into it and concluded on their own, it's just not worth having it on the list in that context.
That is not to say that IGF, per se, but I don't know of a substance or a transfer mechanism out there that can load a person to IGF levels that would get the attention of the WADA science people. Clearly, this isn't one. They've made that clear to us. There is another case recently about cow colostrum, but they concluded that you had to drink 4,000 gallons of the stuff to get any kind of significant level.
It just appears to be anomaly. I don't think you can move ahead with a prosecution on a player given this set of facts. That's our conclusion. Because, again, Vijay wasn't assessed this action because he was negligent. He wasn't assessed it because he made a mistake. He was assessed it because he violated the Doping Code, and the Doping Code is predicated on a list of substances. And we're now finding from WADA that that substance doesn't trigger a positive test to admission, so we have to respect that.
Q. Just wondered if you had any comments or reaction to Norman's comments the other day. It seems coincidental this came up on Monday or Sunday, I guess with him golfing
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I saw the article. I'm always hesitant to comment on a player's public comments in the paper. I think he was out of the country. I don't know who wrote the story. I don't know the facts behind it. I don't know. I'd rather not go there.
I will say, however, that I do believe that with an awful lot of people there is a misunderstanding about the ease of access to a test for these particular small group of substances. Millions of dollars have been invested in recent years to try to get to a point in the team sports, for example, where there have been issues and a range of things, so that you can have a test that's meaningful.
That is the problem with the test is you're going to give a test and then based on the results of that test you're going to take somebody out of the sport. So you've got to make sure of what you're doing, so it has to be reliable. That test is not available today. You can't go out next week and start doing something. The science isn't right yet.
So to the extent that remarks are based on that, that would be inappropriate. But, again, I don't know exactly what he was talking about, and I haven't talked to him, so I don't want to respond to the words he used.
Q. With this Vijay incident now or issue, I should say, resolved, do you view this as perhaps a victory for the Tour doping policy? Is this a defeat for the Tour's doping policy? Where do you stand on your, I guess, opinion of the whole thing now that the WADA folks have come through with their findings?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I don't know how to I think it's my nature to try to find a silver lining in just about anything that happens and usually there is one there. The only one I can find here is that there's been a lot of comment about this. There's been a lot of it's got a high profile. If anything comes out of it, it should help us remind players that the responsibility in the doping area is theirs. It's not ours. And they've been great about it.
But I think they have to redouble their efforts. We have to make sure that we are absolutely convinced that we have explained every single player on an annual basis that in that Doping Code it says what goes in your body is your responsibility; however, here are five ways you can take steps to make sure you're not putting the wrong things in your body. Once they take that step, then it's back on us. If our certification list is wrong and we say, no, you're okay, then it's back on us. So it requires prudence and being careful.
We've had five years of this. We haven't had much in the way of problems, so I think it's human nature. Some players are not paying as much attention as they were two or three years ago, but we can't let that happen. I'm not saying it is, but we will be redoubling our efforts based on this case. And I suppose, if there's a silver lining, that's it.
Q. On what grounds, given that you said you didn't get this WADA change, quote unquote until Friday, did Vijay appeal when he said he did it?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: On what grounds did they appeal?
Q. Did Vijay appeal given that he admitted that he used the substance, what were the grounds for his appeal?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, they had a variety of arguments. Anytime you get a couple lawyers involved, they're going to come up with plenty of arguments.
Q. But, obviously, you didn't think they were much of an argument since you did initially sanction him?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, you know, if you back away from the merits here, we have to prosecute this and we were and all that. It's a difficult situation. Vijay was from the first moment first of all, he told the press what he was doing, so I think clearly on its face it was an honest mistake. But he was absolutely cooperative and very forthcoming, contrite, all of the things that you would want to see. So these are not easy situations, but it is what it is.
Q. Just lastly, you just said it doesn't take much in this area to change the image of your sport. Are you concerned that people are going to see this given that he admitted that he did it, it was a banned substance at the time that people are going to say you let him skate on a technicality?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think so for two reasons. One: I think that people who pay attention to the facts here will conclude or come to the same conclusion that I found with a lot of people. You get into one of these things and everybody wants to talk to you about it. I thought that the fairly strong attitude among people that once you move away from the reality, if it's a violation, we don't have any choice here. It's not like we have discretion. We have to take action was that deer antler spray is a harmless situation, I think that is the general attitude. Apparently that's what WADA has concluded.
I think the other thing is I just think people generally have a very strong view of the integrity of our players. I think it's going to take a lot to shake the foundation of what players have spent decades to build, and this, I don't think, fits the bill.
Q. When was Vijay told?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: A little while ago.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Uh huh.
Q. So can we assume that deer antler spray is not banned?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It's not a violation of the Doping Code for you to use deer antler spray. Now, however, if you read the WADA language, next Wednesday, if we get a test and there is a level set and we test for it but we'll be very aggressive in letting people know when that test comes around.
Q. But it's not detectible in urine?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there is a test that detects it. But normal I don't want to delve too much into the science here because I know not that person. However, a typical or what we call normal blood test does not work for IGF. There is a test that you can perform, but it's meaningless without a level. So you have to do a fair amount of statistical work based off of a range of testing with sample groups until you determine like has happened in testosterone and a lot of other areas okay. Here's a normal level for somebody of your height and weight.
Here's the normal level. The doctor comes in and says your level is lower than normal. You need a TUE. Then our committee says, no, you're not that low. You're working off of levels. That's the way it is with hormones. That science has not been done yet.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of the PGA Tour. For more information, visit www.pgatour.com.
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