Top bridge player suspended after failing drug test

Geir Helgemo will not be allowed to take part in a bridge competition until November.
Geir Helgemo will not be allowed to take part in a bridge competition until November.

LONDON • Geir Helgemo is a Norwegian-born titan in the world of bridge, making him an unlikely candidate to be disciplined for failing a mandatory drug test.

But, last month, the World Bridge Federation - yes, bridge as in the card game - suspended the world's top-ranked player after a random test found the presence of synthetic testosterone and clomifene, a medication typically used to treat infertility in women that can also increase testosterone levels in men.

Helgemo, a professional player who represents Monaco at tournaments, will not be allowed to participate in a bridge competition until November, the federation said.

Unlike a typical doping scandal, the substances found in his urine were not meant to enhance his performance, David Harris, its general counsel, said on Saturday.

Adding that Helgemo asked for the lab to recheck his results after they came back from a test taken at a championship competition in September, Harris said: "He didn't have a terribly good understanding as to how the drugs got into his system."

But they came back unchanged and Helgemo eventually settled on the most likely explanation, telling the federation he had been trying to control his weight.

As a result, he had taken supplements with unknown ingredients that had been given to him by a bodybuilder friend.

Although doping scandals are almost always associated with physically arduous sports, the same rules set by the World Anti-Doping Agency apply to more sedentary games that are recognised by the International Olympic Committee, such as bridge and chess.

This standard is controversial in the bridge community, however, with some players wondering why they have to be tested for drugs that would not even help them win.

Many comments posted on an online forum for bridge players said it "made no sense".

But Harris claimed that accepting the code was about trying to keep the sport "clean" and free of drugs. He added: "It's not just about enhancing performance, it's a wider ethical consideration."

NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2019, with the headline 'Top bridge player suspended after failing drug test'. Print Edition | Subscribe