Hunting the Shadows - (or: Just Don't Do It)

The international fight against doping, as headed by the IOC and the big federations, is at best hypocritical and at worst disastrous. Education and personal responsability must be a new key word in a national doping policy.

Doping, traffic accidents, pollution and child abuse have one thing in common: If you do not wish to sing as loudly and clearly as the others in the holy choir of condemnation, you have already stigmatized yourself.

Although it might do damage to my reputation I shall hoist the white flag and admit: I am against doping. I find it harmful. And I think it needs to be eliminated. However, I do think that it is time to start singing a different song.

The official fight against doping, headed by the International Olympic Committ (IOC) and till this date acceded to by governements and organizations around the world, is at best hypocritical and at worst disastrous. In many cases it is both.

While I am writing these lines, there are certain signs that some governments in the world are no longer willing to serve as errand boys for the IOC.

Hopefully, this latent conflict will give room for new images about what doping is and how to fight it. It is high time that we realize that doping is a cultural phenomenon that should be fought with cultural, rather than legal, means.

The official answer to the question: "Why is doping such a bad thing?" boils down to two things: Doping is cheating, and doping is dangerous. The last part of the answer is probably true. It is a well-documented fact that anabolic steroids have a number of sideeffects some of which are lethal.

And many of the frontline soldiers in the war against doping probably do strive to protect the health of young people. But if these frontline soldiers try to make us and themselves believe that the fight against doping is primarily a matter of health we must reject this argument.

If the health of the athletes was at the top of the list, elite sports would have to change radically; it would actually have to do damage to the core of its being.

The prime incentives in sport in the last 100 years have been the endeavour to beat records, cross new borders, enhance the efficiency of the body.

It is in no way healthy to put the body under such pressure. The immune system is weakened when the amount of excercise goes beyond a certain level. Hardly any top athletes claim that they are in the sport because of the health aspect. Many openly admit that elite sport is unhealthy, but that experiences they get through sport are worth it even if the prize is a broken down body. They are willing - like Flo-Jo - to die for their triumphs.

Why are painkillers not on the doping list?
If health was the real concern, we needed quite a few more bans.

One of the first bans could be directed against the painkilling shots that magically have been exempted from the doping lists, even though these shots enable the athlete to continue exercising in spite of an injury and to thus put his or her health even more at stake.

How can such chemical, performance enhancing products be allowed? Might it be because this kind of chemistry is often necessary to keep the show going?

The question of whether a product is to be considered as illicit or not is mainly decided by the IOC, an exclusive association that has large financial interests in sports, and is completely outside the bounds of democratic control.

Nevertheless, governments and sports leaders around the world has so far fallen in line when the IOC sends out its doping list.

The accept of unequality
As mentioned before, the most important aspect of doping is that it departs from the core of the culture of sports: Sport has to be a matter of equal opportunity and a fair battle between the contestants.

As is the case with experiments in the natural sciences, the performance of the human being needs to be tested as objectively as possible.

Many of the rules in sports are meant to neutralize differences of sex, age, vocation, and equipment. In this sense it is naturally cheating to put wheels on running shoes, to take a shortcut, to choose smaller opponents - or swallow a pill that contains a perfomance enhancing drug.

But no law of nature dictates that doping needs to be banned, and the use of it controlled and punished. It is a matter of human choice.

In other arenas, we accept completely unequal terms:

Some athletes are allowed to live in altitude chambers having an artificially low air pressure which increases the amount of red blood cells leading to performance enhancement.

Some athletes have the opportunity to use computer controlled equipment that tests and registers all bodily reactions hour by hour during the training session.

Some athletes are supported by a costly network of personal consultants, coaches, psychologists, managers, business strategists, dieticians and vocational consultants.

Others do not have all these assets and those who do are often very secretive about it.

Consequently, there is a list of factors that lead to powerful and artificial practices that distort competition, just like doping.

Talent itself is not enough, although great talents occasionally do break through the technological wall.

The professional athlete

When doping is singled out as an especially shabby type of cheating, it is also the effect of a cultural and political choice.

Just 25-30 years ago it was not the athletes who used doping who were condemned, but the professional athletes. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The leaders idolized the pure amateur and loathed the Eastern-European "state amateurs" and everybody else who was being paid for their sport.

The purity of sport was not supposed to be dirtied by the filthy desire for financial gain.

The fronts were as sharply drawn in the debate about amateur athletes as they are now in the debate about doping. And the hypocrisy on the part of the big sports organizations is equally undisguised.

Today everybody knows that the champions of amateur sport were completely wiped out by the financial interests that today have grown into a global entertainment industry.

It is possible, but not to be wished for, that those who fight passionately against doping today might end up losing mercilessly to those whose primary goal is financial gain.

If the engagement between the big sports organizations, the private marketing companies and the broadcasting companies continues to grow in strength there is not much hope for the doping opponents.

The profiteers of the dopingwar
No, health is not an issue in top sports, and in the fight against doping it is at best a side effect. The real issue is the myth about the purity of sport.

It is the notion of doping as cheating that is the real incentive behind the estimated 100 million dollars that are spent anually in the world in the fight against doping.

Doping and the fight against it can be considered to be important areas of a business in which money has taken over the role as the prime incentive.

On the other side of this chemical warfare great pains are taken by the athletes, the coaches and the doctors who work creatively and persistently on finding new drugs that can go undetected in dopingtest. In this area too, a lot of money is at stake.

A possible reconstruction
But is there any hope at all?

There certainly is. But it is crucial to realize that the credibility of the upper echelons of the international sports organizations is virtually non-existent.

Each day brings new reports about the way in which the global sports elite becomes increasingly focused on the financial arrangements.

These conditions might lead to an increase in the use of doping, or they might not. The decisive factors are the TV ratings and the powers of the financial scene, and they cannot constitute the basis of a doping policy.

However, what can form the basis of a doping policy is the principle that the responsability should be placed with the individuals in sport, and only in certain cases involve the states judicial system.

Last summer the French governement and police proved the efficacy of such a strategy. The sports organizations have neither the powers of enforcement required to investigate and interrogate, and quite possibly, nor the will to punish their own money makers.

At the same time the network of the athletes is too strong to ensure law and order. There are too many conflicts of interests and dubious alliances within the sports organisations legislative, executive and judicial powers.

So, set the athletes free to buy and use drugs on the same terms as the rest of us: over the counter in the case of less harmful drugs and through prescriptions in the case of more dangerous drugs.

That, of course, is not without risk..

If the TV-heroes of topsports openly use all the legal drugs they can, young people might be tempted to follow the example of their idols.

But this temptation alreday exists today. The difference is that coaches, parents athletes and other people in the sportsworld can wash their hands of the responsibility for the fight against doping. The responsibility lies with the sports organizations.

If the rules imposed by these organizations disappear, the responsibility is openly placed with the athlete and his or her coaches and consultants.

I admit that some drugs may be considered so tempting and dangerous that they cannot be left to the sense of responsibility of the individual athlete. It is thus the responsibility of society to ban them, as is done with narcotics.The crucial weapon in the fight against doping is an intense restructuring of public opinion. Education at all levels is necessary, and so is the need to realize ones own responsibility.

The sponsors and the media need to realize that their money finances the insanity. Are companies still willing to pay huge sums to have their logos exposed on TV - if the athletes who are wearing them are on drugs?

And do the media have the guts to take their own moral condemnation seriously and back out of the rottenenss before it starts stinking?

The athlete is faced with a choice that appears to be simple: to do the drugs or not. But it is the whole atmosphere around the athlete that decides how easy or hard that choice becomes.

Just don't do it
This atmosphere is created by many factors - education, ideology and the daily communication between people. And the responsibilty for the right kind of atmosphere lies with the sports leaders.

For many years the coaches and managers have engaged in a single-minded hunt for gold medals, media exposure and hefty TV- and sponsor deals. Hardly any of them have asked themselves if they have become the central characters in a development that is completely off track.

Their appeals to the morals of the athletes are totally gratuitous if they do not act accordingly themselves. They might start by using the word "no".

They might refuse to send their athletes to the international events that do not have the necessary credibility. They might refuse to compromise in the name of the holy international unity.

They might refuse the offer of TV-deals that expose their athletes to even more pressure because of the high price. They might refuse sponsorships that require specific results. They might refuse to add to the financial spiral that is the basis of the chemical warfare of doping.

Does it sound like a naive vision? Yes, it is indeed very naive. But not quite as naive as the belief that the fight against doping can be won through the means that are used today. If we continue to hunt the shadodws, they might eventually come hunting for us.

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