Drugs in sport: Creatine given all-clear by IOC

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The Independent Online
By Mike Rowbottom

THE INTERNATIONAL Olympic Committee has no plans to ban the controversial food supplement, creatine, it was revealed yesterday.

The IOC decision, taken against a background of growing concern over the possible long-term side effects of taking the protein muscle-booster, was reached during an annual review of the list of banned substances and practices.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC medical commission, said that creatine, a form of amino acid, should be regarded as a food. "We don't tell people that they can't eat eggs or bread," he said.

"Creatine is food, and there is no reason to ban it. You can't exaggerate, because it's not comparable to steroids." The doping sub-commission, which reported to the medical commission after considering what research has been done on creatine so far, was also swayed by a concern that any ban might unfairly penalise those competitors who had naturally high levels of the substance.

The IOC stance will not be regarded with surprise in the wider sporting community, although some will feel they have missed an opportunity to sound a warning note about the possible dangers of long-term use, or short- term abuse.

The medical commission of the British Olympic Association voted unanimously not to endorse creatine because of uncertainty about its possible long- term effects. Richard Budgett, the BOA doctor, emphasised the need for an education programme. "Athletes are so desperate to get an edge that they will ignore advice about recommended dosages," Budgett said.

In the United States, a survey of 75 top professional teams in American Football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey found that 21 actively opposed its use. Tampa Bay, of the NFL, have issued a five-point "position paper" which they have distributed to all their players.

The paper warns creatine may cause an electrolyte imbalance leading to cramps and fluid retention. It points out the lack of research and adds "any success will be commercially marketed by the food supplement industry as evidence of product efficacy to immature and impressionable youth. Such marketing undermines the efforts of our organisation to be responsible to our youth."