I’m pretty sure the PGA Tour dropped the ball here. They took the usual (and ridiculous) stance of not talking about Vijay Singh’s Deer-Antler-Spray-Banned-Substance Case.
But then again, Vijay Singh is the one who admitted to taking a banned substance. In today’s era of PEDs it has become the athlete’s responsibility to know exactly what he is putting into (or onto) his body.
However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) changed the rules by removing Deer Antler Spray from the list of Banned Substances.
[Rubs eyes with fingers, massages temples, shakes head, throws hands in the air
and makes this face >>>]
So what the hell happened here?
Back in February, the week of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a Sports Illustrated article came out where Vijay Singh admitted to using Deer Antler Spray which contains IGF-1, a substance on the PGA Tour’s and WADA’s list of Banned Substances. Singh withdrew from the tournament. The PGA Tour said they were investigating the matter.
No further news.
Suddenly Vijay Singh shows up at the Tampa Bay Championship in mid-March, about a month after the story broke but without any further comment from either Singh or the Tour, besides the expected “Mr. Singh is fully cooperating with the investigation.” Singh plays in Tampa and the following week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, followed by starts at The Masters and RBC Heritage.
Still no updates on the status of Singh.
Finally a new update in the story! PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announces, in a press conference on Tuesday, April 30, that the case against Vijay Singh has been dropped. (WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?) Citing the removal of Deer Antler Spray from WADA’s Banned Substance list due to minimal amounts of IGF-1 in the product, Finchem explained that the Tour saw it as only fair to drop the case. Vijay Singh then withdrew from this week’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.
So yes, what you’re thinking is correct. Vijay Singh broke a rule, his punishment was delayed, and eventually the rule was changed so he was not punished.
To me the real question is who’s to blame? (And no, I am not going with 80s singer-songwriter Howard Jones’ deceptively cool “No One Is To Blame”)
As I stated at the beginning of this column, Vijay Singh is to blame because he used a product that other Tour players had been warned to not use (notably Mark Calcavecchia) and was on the Banned Substance list. But Singh has no bearing on his punishment and I cannot blame him for playing the four tournaments he has played between his WDs in Phoenix and Charlotte. This is his job, he’s trying to make a living.
I lay some of the blame at WADA’s feet. In this era of über-scrutiny on athletes and the substances they put into their bodies it is WADA’s responsibility to be as up to date on the substances on their Banned list as possible. It seems that WADA failed to know enough about Deer Antler Spray before banning it. After conducting further analysis on the product it was determined that the amount of IGF-1 in the spray was not enough to be beneficial. That is why Deer Antler Spray was removed from the Banned Substance list.
The majority of the blame goes to the PGA Tour. It’s due to the policy of not publicly discussing player fines and suspensions. By not having immediate and continued transparency on these types of issues it leads to speculation from those who cover the Tour. While the Tour’s idea of not disclosing details of player discipline is to avoid drawing negative publicity, it seems to backfire. By explaining the details of fines and suspensions for players it would allow the Tour to control its message and be in front of the story.
In the case of Singh, Commissioner Finchem stated in his press conference that the Tour had been in contact with WADA to clarify some technical points of the Deer Antler Spray. If the result was WADA discovering that Deer Antler Spray doesn’t give enough of an advantage to warrant a place on the Banned Substance list, then why didn’t Finchem just say that?
It would have reduced some of the heat on Singh and shifted (at least a part of) the focus to WADA’s testing. This would have also made sense of the question “Why is Vijay Singh allowed to play when he has a drug suspension pending?”
For the Tour to continue with this “behind-the-curtain” approach to player discipline would be nothing short of foolish and arcane. Public Relations in 2013 is about controlling the message. Tour brass in Ponte Vedra Beach need to realize this, because it can only help them.