Even without further confirmation by authorities, Malaysians and badminton fans alike have latched onto the idea that the unnamed athlete who failed the Sample A random drug test is the world renowned player, Lee Chong Wei. While local authorities refused to divulge details of the failed test apart from the player being a ‘top athlete’ since a second sample was still ongoing, it did not take much of a leap to come to the conclusion.
The reaction from general Malaysians ranged from disbelief and skepticism to disappointed outrage. This is an unwelcomed surprise after hearing about Malaysian’s Wushu Exponent Tai Cheau Xuen’s failed drug test on September 30. After several blood tests, Dato’ Lee was tested positive for the drug “Dexamethasone”.
If convicted, Dato’ Lee not only risks being disqualified from the World Championships, but also be stamped with a two year suspension from the sport. The date for the hearing with the Badminton World Federation (BWF) will be announced later.
But is he really doping?
Lee has since posted on social media to attempt to prove his innocence. “I just want to thank every one of you who had faith in me through this difficult time. There are so many unanswered questions and I hope to clear my name soon,” he posted on Facebook.
In addition, he conveyed to The Star that he must have been prescribed the drug by a doctor as “one cannot even buy this banned substance from the counter at any pharmacy”.
Doping A Useless Drug?
Dexamethasone is not a performance enhancing drug. A quick Google search will show you that the reason the drug is banned is because, if administered systematically, can give the athlete a high that can be advantageous to the athlete’s performance.
However, it falls into a medical ‘grey area’, since it is also commonly used in medical treatments. It’s main use is as an anti-inflammatory drug used to aid an athelete’s rehabilitation.
Dr. Patrick Yung told the South China Morning Post that the drug would have minimal effect on Dato’ Lee’s performance. “Dexamethasone is very common in medical treatment and it is not banned during out-of-competition period,” he said, adding that there has been a long and ongoing debate on whether the drug should be removed from the doping list altogether.
“It can help cyclist relieve high-altitude training-related sicknesses such as acute mountain sickness, pulmonary edema and headaches and hence indirectly enchance performance (for cyclists). But I can’t see any significant help for a badminton player,” he said.
“Unlike anabolic bulk building steroids; the unfair advantage of taking dexamethasone is to allow athletes to play through their pain and may produce feelings of euphoria,” says Ben Shyen, a Malaysian general practitioner who took to Facebook to defend the national athlete. “A world-class professional athlete has a team of medical doctors and physiotherapists surrounding them during training and major competitions. It is very likely that Dato’ LCW doesn’t even know he’s been prescribed a banned substance to relieve his pain.”
“Unlike anabolic steroids, where the athlete makes a conscious decision to take them and build up muscle mass; taking anti-inflammatory pain relieving medications is a whole different shuttle game (pun intended).”
Ultimately, the risk of doping a drug like this seems too big a risk for too little a benefit to the national athlete. And with the drug’s obscure nature as a banned substance and a common drug used by medical practitioners, it might be best to not drop the ball just yet. And like Lee mentioned, there are too many unanswered questions at this point to get a clear idea of what happened.
Guilty or not, chances of him getting away scot-free is slim to none, seeing as there were cases of athletes being suspended for using the very same drug. In September 2013, FIFA suspended midfielder Jermain Hue (Reggae Boyz) after he was testing positive for Dexamethasone. Following the result, he was banned from all domestic, international, friendly and official matches until May 6, 2014. His doctor was banned until August 6, 2017.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.