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NFL season ends but HGH testing yet to begin

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - Just a few months ago, the National Football League (NFL) announced, before the start of the season, that it would start testing players for human growth hormone.

But with the season now just days away from finishing, those bold promise and stringent tests are yet to materialize. The anti-doping crusaders who applauded the initial announcement are unimpressed.

Almost immediately after the NFL announced the players had agreed in principle to blood-testing, the players' union (NFLPA) balked at the decision, demanding more scientific proof supporting that tests for HGH were reliable.

The request has resulted in a six-month stalemate, the NFLPA still unconvinced testing is fool proof while David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused the players union of stalling.

"They're showing the public they are trying to weasel out of something," Howman told Reuters. "We were asked to host a meeting so that we could give them a full explanation of how the tests work and what they were based on.

"We answered all the questions. We didn't have any more information to give them so they went away and complained we didn't tell them everything."

Neither the NFL or the NFLPA responded to requests from Reuters to comment on the unresolved issue.

The NFLPA's resistance, according to WADA, is centered around concerns that football players could possess different threshold levels of HGH than other athletes.

The test, already recognized as reliable by some of the world's biggest sporting entities, including the International Olympic Committee, does not detect the amount of HGH in an athlete's system but rather the ratio of different types of human growth hormone isoforms.

The size and shape of the athlete is irrelevant because it is a change in the ratio that indicates the presence of a synthetic hormone.

"We had the test double checked by independent teams, we had for many years discussions with the top experts and all agree the test is validOlivier Rabin, WADA's director of science told Reuters..

"Otherwise we would not have implemented this test in the Olympic Games for the first time in 2004."

WADA says, close to 4,000 HGH test have been conducted on every type of athlete in almost every sport, under every possible condition.

The NFLPA argues that none of the scientific data includes American football players.

Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, said the science was rock solid and questioned the NFLPA's reluctance to accept HGH testing.

"The reality is the science is sound there is no legitimate scientific reason for a sports league not to be using this test if they want to stop the abuse of human growth hormone," Tygart told Reuters.

"No scientist on behalf of the NFLPA has raised a question. Not one.

"Maybe they are worried about decimating certain teams or maybe they're still some other issue between them and the league they need to continue fighting for some reason but there is no legitimate scientific question about the HGH test."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Julian Linden)