07 September 2010

So What Are You Proposing, Exactly?

I was planning on giving the FEI a friendly reminder that it's "first draft of rule changes" time, just in case they "forgot" again like last year. But alas, no reminder was necessary. There was even a press release about the New List, which of course contains the whole story like always!
The List Group has proposed a list of prohibited substances for 2011 which represents a practical solution that respects horse welfare and ensures a level playing field. This list does not allow NSAIDs in competition, but does allow post-competition usage of certain NSAIDs, specifically Phenylbutazone (bute) and Flunixin (banamine), in low dosages between competitions for the well-being of the horse; but only to the extent that the medications will neither be detectable nor affect the performance or welfare of the horse at its next competition.
But you guys, "post-competition usage" of bute and banamine is already allowed "to the extent that the medications will neither be detectable nor affect the performance or welfare of the horse at its next competition." In other words I think you just served up a heapin' pile o' bullshit right there. That sounds like the status quo wrapped up in some kind of funny business. So what does it mean?  Either it's just a PR move to keep pro-NSAID people from fully grasping that nothing has changed (fail), or I think they must plan on redefining rollkur and then banning it what it means for these two medications to be "detectable" (a brief layperson-friendly editorial about this concept is conspicuously located at the top of the FEI document list, further elaborated in two Congress abstracts, pp 17-22). Meaning they would be changing the detection methodology and the point at which positives for these two substances are determined and prosecuted. Clever. NB: this is scientifically distinct from going to thresholds.

Otherwise there was absolutely no reason for them to mention allowing bute and banamine post-competition because you can already do that, you just have to be clean again at show time. That's unchanged. The only thing left to modify is what constitutes "clean." And there is something of a middle ground between the progressive list and status quo. We know they can't make the drugs clear the system any faster than they already do no matter what information they provide the riders. Horse physiology is not changing. Competition schedules are not changing. So either they must be talking about changing screening levels, or. . .what the hell are they talking about?

TheHorse.com somewhat attempts to explain what they're actually talking about, but even that is ambiguous despite quoting John McEwen (Chair of the latest List Group) directly:
McEwen said all NSAID drugs should continue to be prohibited during competitions, and drug testing for these substances should go on as before. The FEI does not currently prohibit the use of NSAIDs between competitions, provided they are no longer detectable at competition testing, and the new recommendation does not change this.

"What we're recommending is practical guidance and support, with clear, accurate, modern levels available," he said.
Nice words but "practical guidance and support" do not require a New List featuring star players bute and banamine (they did also change the salicylic acid threshold.) Pro-progressive list Equine Canada president Mike Gallagher adds, "It's a good compromise." We like that word. But announcing you're now allowing something you already allow doesn't sound like a compromise, that sounds like you're not being straight with us. If you're being straight with the NFs and just not the public, well we can understand that. But we still feel obliged to mention it. Either tell us everything or tell us nothing. Don't be a tease! You can't put out a bizarre press release and expect people not to ask questions.

I think it would be great if they redefined what it meant to have a positive, for even more than just bute and banamine. It's not in the interest of the sport, or ultimately the horse, for people to be losing medals over so many of these minute cases. Then "officially" there's still no detection of bute in the system, you've just changed what it means to detect bute in the system. You redefine it, then you prohibit it. Classic FEI! I kid, because it's my job, but actually I think this is a great way to go. If they are really going that way, which I hope will be explained soon, by someone. Anyone?

Also with regular rule changes the NFs can respond to what is initially proposed, modifications which may or may not make the final draft. But with this "list group" phenomenon being a little quirky, perhaps they are doing things differently. But the main thing is we know HRH fully understands the meaning of "final draft," now, right? Final means final, one month out, no new lists pulled completely out of your ass at the eleventh hour. Super.

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