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Tygart calls out British Cycling’s ketone trials

US Anti-Doping Agency chief highlights need for greater oversight of organizations chasing success at any cost.

Travis Tygart has called out UK Sport’s reported trials of ketones, urging for greater oversight of organizations in their quest for success at any cost.

Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has responded to the recent reports that UK Sport trialed ketones on its athletes, including the cycling team, in advance of the 2012 Olympics.

‘Treating athletes as performance guinea pigs is why we pushed so hard for independence in regulation [of sports’ bodies] because the self-interest of these sports organizations is to win,” Tygart told British newspaper The Mail. “And sometimes they are unfortunately willing to cross the line when it comes to athletes’ health and safety.”

Tygart has masterminded some of the most explosive anti-doping investigations in sport, including heading up the investigations that brought down infamous Texan Lance Armstrong. More recently, the Floridan has led the projects that saw American sprinter Marion Jones being stripped of five Olympic medals, and brought about the four-year ban of Mo Farah’s coach, Alberto Salazar.

Earlier this month, The Mail reported that UK Sport had trialed the nutritional supplement ketones on athletes in the years before the London Olympics. Participants were required to sign waivers accepting personal responsibility for their involvement in the secret trials, which are claimed to have led to many athletes experiencing adverse side effects.

Tygart highlighted how organizations that are funded based on success – such as UK Sport – are effectively incentivized to pursue success at any cost, so placing undue pressure on athletes.

“[This issue] is why we need really clear rules and also power for athletes to stand up and say: ‘I need to run this past someone who has my best interest first, not my interest to win first and comply and be healthy second,’” Tygart said this weekend.

“We need clear rules and athlete advocates outside of sport who are there for athletes. It’s the power imbalance that puts athletes in these vulnerable positions, where they can’t say ‘no’ to people in sport who are paid to win.”

“As good as many of these folks are intended, the pressure to get to or cross the ethical or medical line and justify it as acceptable is too common. And it’s the athletes who suffer because of it.”

UK Sport declined to comment on Tygart’s comments, but stated after the Mail’s initial investigation that it “resolutely refutes any accusation that Olympians were used as ‘guinea pigs’ and finds this allegation misleading and offensive. UK Sport does not fund research projects aimed at giving our national teams a performance advantage at the expense of athlete welfare.”

Although ketones are not a banned substance under WADA guidance, their use has sparked debate throughout the sporting world. Ketone esters, which promote the endurance-boosting state of ketosis, most recently caused ruffles within WorldTour cycling when Jumbo-Visma was found to be using them at the 2019 Tour de France. At the time, UCI boss David Lappartient stated that the use of ketones was being monitored.