The Women's Tennis Association Tour, or WTA Tour has entered into a three-year agreement with Usana to supply athletes with dietary supplements the company guarantees conform to the Tour's antidoping policy. Usana said it will double a player's previous prize money, up to $1m, and compensate the association if a player tests positive for a banned substance while using one of their products.
This latest announcement follows similar agreements the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) entered into this year, as doping scandals in professional sports continue to plague leagues while athletes demand a safe supply of supplements.
"We are their official health supplement supplier," USANA vice president of customer service Allan Bergstrom told NutraIngredients-USA.com about his company's agreement with the WTA Tour.
Usana first developed its "Athlete Guarantee" program in Canada in January 2004. The company has international offices and happened to be in anti-doping talks at the time in the country. Usana reassessed its products, raw materials and supply chain for any potential contaminants in order to assure it met World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) requirements.
Forty athletes, mainly Canadian, were taking Usana supplements while competing at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. The company has not had to pay out to any athletes said Bergstrom. "We've never had anybody test negative at all."
Bergstrom said the new agreement with the WTA Tour came about after the association approached Usana.
The supplement industry has generally bit back when blamed in highly publicized cases where professional athletes test positive to banned substances and subsequently pinpoint dietary supplements. Still, National Products Association vice president of scientific affairs Daniel Fabricant said alliances such as that between Usana and the WTA Tour can only bring more credibility to the industry.
"We hope more follow suit," Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA.com. Adding however that "the idea that the steroids athletes are getting come from dietary supplements is laughable".
Fabricant pointed out that the benefit of such agreements lies in the publicity they generate - after all, professional athletes represent a tiny percentage of the dietary supplement industry's target market. Most companies cannot enter into agreements like this due to the testing costs associated.
"I think a lot of the smaller people (companies) will not be able to get their whole line of products certified," said Fabricant.
The NFL made the first move in professional team sports to regulate supplements. In 2004, the league began its supplement certification program with the Michigan-based independent testing agency NSF International.
MLB is also joining the ranks of professional sports teams to sell approved supplements to their players in an effort to prevent positive drug tests. The league has started working with NSF International and will buy certified products to then sell to their players.