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Golf: Olympics to prompt Asia's first drug tests

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Asian golfers will face drug tests for the first time in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics but officials played down the likelihood of a major problem despite serious scandals in other sports.

As the Asian Tour, the region's biggest circuit, heads into its 10th season, executive chairman Kyi Hla Han said testing was yet to be introduced, but could start next year in tune with demands from the International Olympic Committee.

"If the players are going to qualify for the Olympics they're going to have to go through testing," he told AFP last week. The Asian Tour's rival golf circuit, OneAsia, also does not test players.

But Kyi Hla and other high-level officials remain sceptical that players would resort to performance-enhancing drugs in golf, despite increases in the sport's athleticism and the prize money at stake.

"It's hard to tell from a golf point of view what drugs are performance-enhancing or not," he said.

"I think as the governing bodies we're not sure whether they're performance-enhancing or not... but I think we're all in agreement that we will comply with the enforcement regulations."

He added: "I don't really see how they can purposely try to enhance their performance. Golf is not like other sports (where you need) speed and recovery. It's difficult to judge, but all the players will have to follow the rules."

Kyi Hla's view is widely held in golf with world number one Rory McIlroy this week quoted as calling the sport "clean" and saying there were few substances that could benefit players.

Last year Tiger Woods, after seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was revealed as a serial doping offender, said golf was simply too honourable to have much cheating.

"This is a sport where we turn ourselves in on mistakes. A ball moves in the trees, guys call penalties on themselves. Golf is a different sport," said the 14-time major champion.

However, Vijay Singh triggered a storm last month when he admitted using a substance called deer antler spray, which boosts muscle growth and contains a banned anabolic hormone. Singh, who denies cheating, is now under investigation.

Such cases are rare in golf but the sport has faced calls to tighten its comparatively light testing regime, in which America's PGA Tour and the European Tour rely on urine rather than more stringent blood tests.

Drug scandals have rocked all manner of sports from cycling, weightlifting and tennis to even the sedentary pursuit of chess, after players refused to undergo urine tests in 2004 and 2008.

And even the governing body of darts, one of the least physically demanding sports, is a signatory to the world anti-doping code.

Golf is a tougher challenge for players, requiring four hours of walking, taking shots and keeping focus, in all weather conditions and often under intense psychological pressure, for four days in a row.

But Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr said he "had no real cause for concern about the prevalence of drugs in golf.

"I'm no expert, but I don't naturally see a drug that necessarily helps," said Kerr. "Obviously maybe in recovery from injury and things like that, maybe.

"But I think like every sport it's something that we have to acknowledge. We have to ensure we continue to protect our players, more than anything else, from the potential of drugs and the harm that drugs does from the sports perspective."

Kyi Hla said the Asian Tour has previously warned its players to be cautious about taking health supplements and has provided a sports doctor to give them advice.

A spokesman for OneAsia said the circuit has an anti-drug policy modelled on that of the Australian PGA Tour, which is approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but has no current plans to introduce testing.

th/jah

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130220/golf-olympics-prompt-asias-first-drug-tests