Will drugs ever be separated from sport?

Injection_Syringe_01The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) will in January officially implement the latest version of the World Anti Doping Code. It is supposed to herald a new era in the fight against the use of prohibited substances and techniques designed to enhance the performance of athletes in different sports around the world.
The WADA has been satisfied that it has been catching up with the drug cheats under its current drive in research and the expansion of the way it conducts its testing programme, both in and out of competition.
There are many who would argue that the drug cheats pay better and so they can always find people with the necessary skill greed to research newer drugs and performance-enhancing techniques faster than WADA’s researchers are capable of detecting them.
The big question really is, will the new WADA Code change anything?
Will WADA be more adept in pre-empting the cheaters?
Unsavoury experiences
Records show that doping may well have been used as far back and during the time of the Ancient Olympics. This highlights the importance of fame and glory to people. There is this craving for the attention and money or access to money that exists among people.
Of course we have had some philosophers who insist that man is essentially selfish and greedy and the eagerness with which many have turned to drugs in order to benefit from enhanced performances may well serve as strong support for this line of thinking.
Over the years we have witnessed doping in the sport of weightlifting to such an extent that at one point the international governing body for the sport took a decision to cancel all existing world records by changing the categories.
We have heard much about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists from virtually every corner of the world. While emphasis has undoubtedly been placed on the cyclists involved in road racing there has been no shortage of drug cheats in the track version of the sport. Lance Armstrong will for a long time remain the most celebrated case of drug use by cyclists given the extensive, intriguing and deceptive strategies put together to facilitate the dastardly practice.
Athletics has had and continues to have its fair share of drug cheats and this has often negatively impacted the credibility of the sport.
We have also heard about athletes in the sports of archery and shooting using marijuana as a means of calming their nerves.
There remains talk of athletes in tennis also using drugs to help strengthen them for better and more frequent competition.
One wonders however whether the monies being spent on the fight against drugs in sport is having any impact at all.
Are we witnessing any significant change in the eagerness of so many athletes around the world to access performance-enhancing substances and techniques?
Rugby & others
In the recent past a tremendous amount of attention has been paid to athletes in the sport of rugby and their use of prohibited substances aimed at giving them a competitive edge.
London’s The Mail on Sunday (7 December 2014) published an investigative report undertaken by Same Peters and Matt Lawton that focused on drug use by rugby players. The article quoted from a former international rugby coach made it clear…you can’t become as big as the players are becoming without a serious amount of drug-taking. Once a core of players take drugs, get bigger and win places, the only way other players can compete is by taking drugs too.
The suggestion is that since rugby went professional players are bulking up to get in on the money that is now available. There is a belief that the young players are being encouraged to bulk up. The article noted…Last year’s England Under 18s…weighed more than 21lbs per man more than the England side who lost to Australia in the 1991 World Cup final.
The article reported…a recent study of South African schoolboy players returned 12 positive tests for anabolic steroids out of just 52 undertaken.
For some time we have watched the size of US College students playing American Football, to say nothing of the players in the professional NFL. How did they get this huge?
Revelations abound now amongst the American baseball fraternity and it has not really created the kind of uproar that one would have expected.
Equally, track and field analysts continue to be bothered by the relatively timid performances of some athletes at one competition, including their own Championships or some major classic only to display world best or near world record performances soon thereafter.
Real challenges
Dick Pound, former head of WADA has bashed the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for failing to act in respect of allegations of coordinated approaches to doping in the sport in Russia. An article by Nick Harris, carried in The Mail on Sunday already referred to above, drew attention to revelations by German TV station ARD and the French newspaper, L’Equipe, showing that Liliya Shobukhova – Russian marathoner stripped of victory in the London Marathon – paid 450,000 euros to the Russian governing body for the sport. The German station also reported that Olympic 800m champion, Maria Savinova, admitted that not only has she used performance-enhancing substances but that coaches, athletes and even anti-doping authorities are involved in doping cover-ups.
Allegations now run rife about track and field athletes from other nations including the UK and about possible collusion by the authorities of the sport. Many have long since wondered whether some athletes know when and where they would be tested for what substances and techniques.
The IAAF is now more closely before the critics and the cynics and may well experience significant damage should the allegations prove to be true.
The real challenges then relate to getting everyone on board in the fight against the use of drugs because clearly this is not now the case and has not been for some time.
We are forced to ask whether international sports federations (IF) are really interested in clean sport.
The reputations of sporting organisations have been heavily reliant on outstanding performances. This approach brings significantly enhanced revenues to their coffers and allows them to attract more participants to their sport. Why then would they not do whatever it takes to sustain the good times?
Many still ponder on former IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch’s appeal towards the end of the last millennium, for existing world records to be dumped and usher in a new set of records at the start of the next century.
What was it that Samaranch knew about these records that he felt compelled to call for them to be cast aside?
Was Samaranch aware of the depths to which sport had sunk in terms of the use of performance-enhancing substances and techniques that he wanted the world to forget everything achieved up to that time?
Human achievement
There are many who now seem to think that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is a necessity since it allows us to see just what mankind is capable of achieving. They have taken the concepts of higher, faster, stronger, to mean attainable by whatever means necessary.
Could it be that we are at a stage where, as we are doing with technology, our coaches and athletes are prepared to use whatever new substances and techniques they could find to push their bodies to the very limit?
Why would people subject themselves to an orchestrated performance-enhancing regime known to be illegal, unethical and immoral and yet lie through their teeth until everything comes to light, at which point they are ready to lie prostrate before the court of public opinion appealing for forgiveness?
Haven’t we had people wanting to see just how fast a man can run, whether or not he uses performance-enhancing substances and/or techniques?
One wonders to what extent the world is becoming insensitive to the health and well being of those who entertain us on the field of play.
Does it matter to an ever-increasing number of sport enthusiasts that athletes are suddenly dropping dead on and off the field and the medical reports are treated much like secret service reports?
If as we have seen in the case of South Africa, the UK and elsewhere, people are turning to whatever aids in the bulking up process in order to impress coaches and get themselves selected on national representative teams of swooped by professional outfits, how long would it take for this to be adopted in the Caribbean?
How do we prepare ourselves for the obvious challenges ahead in this regard?
Do we simply twiddle our thumbs and wait for the crisis to emerge or do we seek now to take seriously the offerings coming from the local anti doping organisation led by Perry de Freitas?
Today, Vincentians are eagerly adopting the culture of our northern neighbours more than ever before. The Internet and social media networks facilitate this process of what some may call re-culturation as our local culture diminishes and we become part of something that does not originate with us.
Do our parents take time to monitor what their children watch? There is evidence that they are not monitoring what and how they eat given what we are seeing in respect of childhood obesity.
How then do we address the likelihood of our children taking greater interest in bulking themselves up to do better in the sport of choice?