Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Legalize Doping!

WADA was established in 1999 as an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sport movement and governments of the world. Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti Doping Code (Code) – the document harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries. WADA is a Swiss private law Foundation. Its seat is in Lausanne, Switzerland, and its headquarters are in Montreal, Canada.   
WADA works towards a vision of a world where all athletes compete in a doping-free sporting environment.”

This statement is taken directly from the ‘about WADA’ page on the World Anti-doping Agency website.  Nowhere on here does it mention that its major purpose is to catch drug-cheats. 

The WADA ‘Strategic Objectives are as follows:

  1. Provide comprehensive leadership on current and emerging issues and in the communication of effective strategies and programs in the campaign for doping-free sport.
  2. Achieve compliance by all anti-doping and international sport organizations with the Code to honour the rights of clean athletes and maintain the integrity of sport.
  3. Generate universal involvement of public authorities and public leaders in the campaign against doping in sport, and in particular encourage national laws to allow the sharing of evidence gathered or collected through investigations and inquiries by appropriate bodies.
  4. Promote an international framework for education programs that instill the values of doping-free sport.
  5. Promote universal awareness of the ethical aspects and health, legal and social consequences of doping so that stakeholders use that knowledge in their interaction with and education of athletes to prevent doping, protect health and the integrity of sport.
  6. Implement an international scientific research program and foster an international scientific research environment and expert network that monitors and predicts trends in doping science and actively promotes reliable research outcomes in the effective development, improvement and implementation of detection methods.
  7. Lead, assist and perform oversight so that every accredited anti-doping laboratory performs at a level consistent with international standards.
  8. Be a respected organization whose corporate governance and operating standards reflect international best practice. 

Nowhere on this list does it state that one of their objectives is to catch doping athletes.  

WADA President John Fahey states: “WADA is committed to protecting the rights of clean athletes, where hard work and talent are justly recognized and doping cheats are exposed for what they are. Clean sport is fundamental to a healthy society and sets the best example for future generations of athletes.”, without - again - mentioning the mandate of catching dirty athletes.

Again... Why - in WADA’s own words - does it not mention the importance of catching the cheaters?  

Because that is not the issue.  The whole point of drug testing, and the existence of organizations like WADA, USADA, UKAD, etc. is to protect those who do not wish to dope.  Those who choose to compete drug-free.  

The whole purpose of doping controls is to act as a deterrent.  Ross Tucker, in his excellent overview of the Lance Armstrong case, urges folk to ‘recognize the bigger picture’ - ‘that we cannot give up because we are not yet 100% perfect.  The drug-testers are not catching everyone.  Not yet.  But there are far fewer athletes doping now than there was five years ago.  And ten years ago. And twenty years ago...

It’s a process.  It takes time.  And we must be patient.  

The real problems arise when the sport governing bodies are complicit to these doping acts.  There are numerous cases of athletes being ‘protected’ - either by their IGBs, their NGBs, or perhaps even their national anti-doping organizations (either through bribery or otherwise).  Examples of this are obvious with a little study of some Eastern European National Championships, for example.  When all these organizations decide that drug-free sport is indeed the number one goal for amateur sport.  When fairness rules the roost over money.  Then will we see real change.  Real progression.  But we’re on the right road.  Blood tests and Biological Passports are the beginning.  Relying on after-the-fact evidence from either witnesses or newer technologies is the way forward.  The Lance case is huge in this regard.  The first time the public at large has heard of an athlete getting caught without actually failing a test.

But I digress...

My friend Dr Jason Ross, in his excellent blog TrainOutPain, recently wrote on the perils of doping, and - referring to a recent Forbes Magazine article called ‘Why it’s time to legalize steroids in pro sports (which, by the way, I thought was terrible.  A very poorly written article by some dude who clearly does not understand the issue at all...shame on a supposedly reputable magazine for posting this drivel) - concluded that he would be all for legalizing its use: “Let them go at it.  We would start to witness what the peak of the human condition could achieve.  Great physical performances.  Or perhaps, it would just be legal, and not much would actually be different.  It depends on how cynical you are I guess.  I fall on the scale of either super cynical or on a true believing day just very cynical.”

Sorry Jay - I couldn’t disagree more.  Jason’s a super-smart dude, and I agree totally with much of the rest of his blog-post; but this statement totally misses the point: by legalizing doping in sport, you are not creating a more level playing field - as is the oft-repeated statement.  Instead, you punish those who would prefer to compete clean.  

Tucker identifies three reasons why the ‘level playing field axiom’ is bogus:
  1. The athlete who is willing to take the most risk - who is perhaps able to afford the most, and best drugs - will obviously have an advantage over those who do not.
  2. Drugs affect different people in vastly different ways.  Just because anabolics worked well for Ben Johnson, does not mean they will work well for you.
  3. It’s dishonest!  Tucker cites the example of Bernie Madoff - the Wall Street trader who stole millions from his clients.  He argues ‘If every single investment banker on Wall Street was dishonest and committing fraud, does that mean that none are in the wrong?  Are Madoff and Stanford less guilty because fraud is widespread?  If a student cheats on an exam to get into University, is that condoned as long as he's not the only one cheating?

International cycling was a laughing stock just a few years ago.  It was clear to even the most casual observer that many/most/all competitors were doping.  But, with recent improvements in drug-testing procedures (EPO blood testing - introduced in 2002 - and Biological Passports - introduced in 2007 - being the main two that have affected cycling), we now see a much cleaner sport; one where the non-cheating athlete will feel he has an opportunity to actually compete.  And perhaps even to win.

And isn’t THAT the point?