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Brazilian USADA-linked site doesn’t tell athletes that 7-keto-DHEA is banned

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Lyoto Machida's claim that he did not have proper education about banned substances is supported by new information

USADA

Lyoto Machida claimed that he felt the information available to him for checking the status of the supplements he was taking was lacking, a claim contested by USADA in an MMAFighting.com Q&A. Machida's claim was bolstered by information posted by Kirik Jenness at mixedmartialarts.com. It turns out that a Brazilian athlete following the instructions of USADA's spokesman by visiting GlobalDRO.com will be directed to a search function which doesn’t tell them that DHEA or 7-keto-DHEA are banned substances.

A Brazilian athlete visiting GlobalDRO.com will be prompted to visit www.consultealista.abcd.gov.br to check for banned substances. Upon doing so, the first issue is that there appears to be no way for a mixed martial artist to select MMA as their sport. Even if they select another sport—any other sport—the bigger problem is that entering DHEA, 7-keto-DHEA or 7-ceto-DHEA (as sometimes used in Portuguese) as search terms does not return a banned substance notification, instead returning the message:

“Sem informação disponível, não existem resultados para 'DHEA'

Verifique se preencheu correctamente todos os parâmetros de pesquisa, ou consulte a Lista de Substâncias e Métodos Proibidos do Código Mundial Antidopagem em vigor, o seu Médico, ou entre em contacto com abcd@abcd.gov.br para obter mais informação.”

Which roughly translates to:

“No information available, there are no results for ' DHEA '

Check that you have filled in all the search parameters, or see Substances List and Prohibited Methods of the World Anti-Doping Code in force, your doctor, or contact abcd@abcd.gov.br for more information”

UFC athletes are generally encouraged to use the ufc.GlobalDRO.com site instead of the main site, though, so how does that change things? Well, firstly, there appears to be no obvious way to access that site in Portuguese, and there doesn’t seem to be a .br version of the site. I have reached out to USADA to ask if there is a way to do this, but have not received a response as of publication.

If the Portuguese speaking athlete is nonetheless able to navigate the ufc.globaldro.com site in English and enter the drug search section, they receive a terms and conditions page which informs them this site only provides information on products purchased in Canada, Australia, Japan, UK, and USA.

The athlete is advised by the abcd.gov.br site to check their prohibited list whenever a substance doesn't return a result - a list that Lyoto Machida claimed USADA only provided after he disclosed his 7-keto-DHEA use.

A prohibited list is available in Portuguese on the abcd.gov.br site, but sports sometimes have different substances prohibited (for instance, beta blockers and alcohol are banned in some sports, but not others). The GlobalDRO.com searches athletes are directed to use will specifically tell the athlete if the substance is banned in their sport, and if it's banned in- or out-of-competition. The same search on the abcd.gov.br site simply returns no results for DHEA, 7-keto-DHEA or 7-ceto-DHEA.

This means there is apparently no simple way for a Portuguese speaking Brazilian mixed martial artist to know that DHEA/7-keto-DHEA is a banned substance by searching it on a website, contrary to what USADA claimed in their Q&A. The Athlete is required to email the Brazilian anti-doping organisation or USADA directly to get that information, or manually search the general prohibited list, and hope it is fully accurate for their sport.

The Q&A also contained a serious factual inaccuracy that falsely claimed Lyoto Machida tested positive for elevated levels of DHEA. DHEA is generally viewed as a more serious PED than 7-keto-DHEA, thanks to its potential to affect androgenic sex hormones (though the evidence for its ability to enhance performance is minimal at best according to WADA funded researchers). 7-keto-DHEA is a supplement available over the counter which, at best, is a mild weight-loss aid. As a result, the claim that Machida had 15x the normal level of DHEA was potentially harmful to Lyoto Machida’s reputation.

The claim was corrected after I contacted the author of the piece and the spokesman about it. The Q&A also had arguably misleading responses to other questions, such as when the spokesman implied 7-keto-DHEA is an untested, potentially dangerous supplement. It isn’t.

To be clear, It wasn’t impossible for Lyoto Machida to check if 7-keto-DHEA was banned - he could have claimed to be an American to properly use the GlobalDRO.com site for instance, or had assistance navigating the ufc.globaldro.com site in English and put the US as the country of purchase, or even emailed USADA out of an abundance of caution. There were a number of steps he could, and arguably should have taken, but it’s becoming clear that the process of checking the status of 7-keto-DHEA for isn’t as simple as USADA claimed, at least for Brazilian athletes.

Remember, Lyoto Machida is currently serving an 18 month suspension. That’s despite the following things being true:

  • Machida disclosed that he was taking 7-keto-DHEA when asked to list what supplements he was using.
  • 7-keto-DHEA has never been shown to have any athletic performance enhancing benefit, or to have any negative effects on health.
  • 7-keto-DHEA carries an increased base penalty of 2 years purely due to its classification as an anabolic agent, even though WADA admits it has no intrinsic anabolic properties and is only classed as such due to its relationship to DHEA.
  • Most other banned substances which are legally available over the counter as supplements only carry a one year penalty.
  • It is somewhat more difficult for Portuguese speaking, Brazilian athletes to find out that 7-keto-DHEA is banned, compared to English speaking athletes.
  • Athletes found to have negligently taken substances which can potentially have extremely potent performance enhancing effects have received suspensions of 12 months in the past.

An athlete who takes a banned substance must face some sort of punishment for doing so. Despite the extra difficulties Brazilian athletes face in verifying the status of substances, Lyoto Machida could and should have been more diligent in checking the status of 7-keto-DHEA before using it, and some sort of penalty needs to be given to encourage athletes to be more careful.

That being said, I have argued that an 18 month suspension for this offence is unfair and disproportionate, and that opinion is only strengthened by this new information. 18 months is usually well over 10% of an athlete's entire UFC career. There's a good chance that such a long suspension has ended the 38-year-old Machida's career.

That's too steep a price to pay for a careless mistake which didn't confer any competitive advantage.