ROME (AP) — As more than 2,000 swimmers, divers and water polo players converge on Shanghai for the world aquatic championships, teams are taking precautions against the threat of eating contaminated Chinese meat.
Australia is hoping to eliminate the threat altogether, shipping in all of its meat from home and avoiding all pork products, while other teams plan to eat only in hotels accredited by swimming governing body FINA.
Chinese beef and pork have been linked to steroid use during cattle and pig raising, and a recent study by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Cologne, Germany, found that 22 of 28 travelers returning from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol.
Clenbuterol is on WADA's list of banned substances as an anabolic agent that builds muscle and burns fat, and athletes who test positive can face bans of up to two years.
Doping is already a sensitive topic at these championships, with the possibility that Cesar Cielo of Brazil will be allowed to defend his 50- and 100-meter freestyle titles despite testing positive for the banned substance furosemide — because an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is still pending.
The worlds open Saturday with diving, while swimming begins July 24.
Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol en route to winning last year's Tour de France. He blamed contaminated meat and the Spanish cycling federation accepted his explanation, but he is still awaiting a definitive ruling from the CAS.
"You cannot control everything you eat all around the world," FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The Associated Press recently from Shanghai. "Probably the price is going to be to mostly consume at the hotel. But that doesn't mean that outside the hotel it's a problem."
Still, Australia has decided to lodge its athletes at a hotel with an Australian general manager.
"All of our meat will come from Australia," head coach Leigh Nugent said last week. "And we won't be eating any pork products."
While USA Swimming is aware of the clenbuterol concerns, it normally provides food and protein sources for athletes at major competitions.
"This is provided outside of what is served at the venue and hotels in order to ensure the athletes have sufficient energy sources to perform at the optimal level," said Stacy Michael-Miller, USA Swimming's athlete services manager.
About 2,220 athletes from at least 181 countries will compete in Shanghai, down from the 2,438 athletes at the last worlds in Rome two years ago after new qualifying standards were introduced for swimming.
Athletes will be subjected to blood and urine tests.