Paralympics to get tough on scrotum-squeezing 'boosters'

Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:41am EST
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By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Wheelchair-bound athletes could face tougher checks at next year's Rio Paralympics to stop them risking their health by sitting on their scrotums, or clamping off catheters to fill their bladders, in order to boost adrenaline and performance.

Officials said on Tuesday the International Paralympic Committee is reviewing guidelines against "boosting", a practice employed by some athletes with spinal cord injuries.

Banned for more than a decade, it does not use any artificial stimulants. Instead, it involves tricking the brain into triggering "autonomic dysreflexia" (AD), causing the body to flush with adrenaline to achieve more power and greater oxygen uptake during races.

Squeezing the scrotum or filling and then tapping the bladder are the most common external stimuli to induce AD, resulting in elevated heart rates and blood pressure.

Research shows deliberately induced AD can enhance athletic performance by as much as 10 percent, especially in endurance events such as long-distance wheelchair races.

But it can also raise blood pressure to dangerously high levels, leading to strokes and even death. Besides athletics, authorities are also monitoring hand-cycling, rowing and wheelchair rugby.

"The problem with the pathology of a spinal cord injury is that this response is deviated to the cardio-vascular system, including hypertension and increased heart rate," IPC medical and scientific director Peter Van de Vliet told Reuters.

"About 30 to 40 out of 4,300 athletes for Rio are vulnerable to this mechanism," he said in a telephone interview.   Continued...

The feet of an athlete are tucked into his wheelchair at the 116th Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 16, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder