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National High School Ekiden Coaches' Poll on Iron Injection Problem: 40% Say it "Can't Be Eliminated"

The 70th National High School Boys Ekiden Championships and 31st National High School Girls Ekiden Championships take place Dec. 22 in Kyoto on a course starting and finishing at Takebire Stadium. Beginning this year, the JAAF is introducing mandatory blood testing for all athletes competing at the National High School Ekiden as a measure against the abuse of iron injections to enhance performance instead of their intended purpose of alleviating anemia.

Iron injections are said to increase the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity and so to improve endurance, but since iron can accumulate in the liver and heart, excessive intake can cause serious health issues. The JAAF introduced guidelines for preventing the injections' misuse in May.

As part of the JAAF's new guidelines, all athletes who compete at the National High School Ekiden must undergo blood testing at a medical institution within five days after the Championships and report the results to the JAAF. The Mainichi newspaper conducted a survey of the head coaches of all 105 boys' and girls' teams to find their views on the issue. About 40% of the coaches replied that iron injection abuse cannot be eliminated by the testing, indicating a widespread lack of optimism among coaches about the new measures.

In the survey, coaches were asked about the pros and cons of introducing mandatory blood testing, and whether this step could stop iron injection abuse. As of Dec. 17, 81% of the coaches had replied to the survey, with 44 out of 58 boys' coaches and 41 out of 47 girls' coaches returning replies. 22 boys' team coaches and 13 girls' coaches answered that iron injections could not be prevented by the testing, roughly 41% of the total number of respondents.

Some coaches pointed out the potential to cheat the system, such as tampering with testing results or using the injections earlier in the season before the prefectural qualifiers. Some called for better testing measures, saying, "All testing should be done immediately after the race at a medical institution designated by the event organizers."

At the same time, 14 boys' coaches and 20 girls' coaches answered that the injections "can be eliminated" by the new measures, almost the same total number as the negative opinions. Many said that the tests would become a deterrent and that parents have become more aware of the issue. Overall 70% of the coaches who replied, 27 of the boys' coaches and 33 of the girls', agreed with the introduction of blood testing. 80% of the coaches, 34 each among boys' and girls' coaches, approved of the JAAF taking punitive measures such as disqualification of results as a consequence of faked tests or non-reporting of test results, indicating widespread support for the JAAF's efforts on the issue.

6 boys' coaches and 4 girls' coaches opposed the introduction of testing, saying that it suggests distrust of the student athletes and creates the potential for problems differentiating abusers from athletes receiving injections for legitimate reasons. 11 boys' coaches and 10 girls' coaches said that they had utilized iron injections for therapeutic purposes. Only 1 coach answered yes to the question of whether they had ever used iron injections for the purpose of enhancing performance. The coach said that due to their own ignorance on the issue, 20 years ago they had given an athlete the injections. "I hope that young coaches will not make the same mistake," the coach wrote.

Sample answers to survey questions

Regarding blood testing

1. Blood testing helps protect athletes' health and ensures fair competition.
2. It's appropriate, but it also needs to be introduced at the National High School Track and Field Championships and at the prefectural qualifying races for the National High School Ekiden.
3. I oppose testing. It creates an unpleasant atmosphere of suspicion. It makes me feel sorry for the student athletes.
4. I'm not convinced that every single school should be caught up in something that only involves the actions of some of them.
5. I'm concerned that this will lead to the banning of iron injections for legitimate therapeutic uses.

Regarding potential punitive action for faked or missing test results

1. I agree with it, because there is no point in doing testing if there is no penalty.
2. I think that punishment is going too far in the opposite direction. More time needs to first be spent on education about the issue.
3. The JAAF hasn't given us any standard for how they are going to differentiate between whether injections have been given for treatment or to enhance performance.
4. Doctors who prescribe iron injections without sufficient need should also face disciplinary action.

Can iron injection abuse be eliminated?
1. If testing is left to the schools to self-report, there are a lot of ways they could cheat the system.
2. As long as there are doctors who will prescribe the injections the problem will not go away.
3. I want to believe it can.

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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