Should WADA ban Rapid Extreme Weight Cuts in Combat Sports?

In the latest voice calling for reform of rapid extreme weight cut practices in combative sports, the Journal of Sports Medicine published an argument suggesting that the World Anti Doping Agency ban include Rapid Extreme Weight Cutting as a ‘prohibited method’.

The article, titled “It is Time to Ban Rapid Weight Loss from Combat Sports suggests that these practices as a whole meet the WADA test for prohibited methods and therefore should be added to WADA’s prohibited list.  The abstract is reproduced below:

Most competitions in combat sports are divided into weight classes, theoretically allowing for fairer and more evenly contested disputes between athletes of similar body size, strength and agility. It has been well documented that most athletes, regardless of the combat sports discipline, reduce significant amounts of body weight in the days prior to competition to qualify for lighter weight classes. Rapid weight loss is characterised by the reduction of a significant amount of body weight (typically 2–10 %, although larger reductions are often seen) in a few days prior to weigh-in (mostly in the last 2–3 days) achieved by a combination of methods that include starvation, severe restriction of fluid intake and intentional sweating. In doing so, athletes try to gain a competitive advantage against lighter, smaller and weaker opponents. Such a drastic and rapid weight reduction is only achievable via a combination of aggressive strategies that lead to hypohydration and starvation. The negative impact of these procedures on health is well described in the literature. Although the impact of rapid weight loss on performance is debated, there remains robust evidence showing that rapid weight loss may not impair performance, and translates into an actual competitive advantage. In addition to the health and performance implications, rapid weight loss clearly breaches fair play and stands against the spirit of the sport because an athlete unwilling to compete having rapidly reduced weight would face unfair contests against opponents who are ‘artificially’ bigger and stronger. The World Anti-Doping Agency Code states that a prohibited method must meet at least two of the following criteria: (1) enhances performance; (2) endangers an athlete’s health; and (3) violates the spirit of the sport. We herein argue that rapid weight loss clearly meets all three criteria and, therefore, should be banned from the sport. To quote the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, this would “protect the athletes’ fundamental right to participate in a doping-free sport and thus promote health, fairness and equality”.

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