Athletics in ‘crisis’- why doping isn’t cheating

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Athletics in ‘crisis’- why doping isn’t cheating

It’s dark, dark days for athletics.

Suddenly even the big names are getting implicated with doping.  There seems to be a new Lance Armstrong-esque investigation into a household name every other week.  Chris Froome, Mo Farah and now the GB golden girl herself, Paula Radcliffe.

We’ll see the same old statements and the strenuous denials, the emphatic ‘disgust’ at their name being associated with cheating and foul play.

Commentators will begin lamenting the loss of innocence in sports, and the government will debate ethics(!) and call in ‘important’ people like Seb Coe to ‘explain what’s going on’.

photo credit: Cheat to Win via photopin (license)

photo credit: Cheat to Win via photopin (license)

Wait, what are we talking about again? 

A bunch of people running fast, jumping high or throwing something a long way?  And gaining a lot of wealth and fame if they succeed?

Whose livelihoods depend on winning?

With sporting federations who will defend the innocence of their athletes against suspicion, even to the point of attacking the anti-doping experts who red-flag overly-exceptional performances? (see Seb Coe attacking the ‘so-called experts‘)

With sportswear and fitness companies investing billions into the ‘brand’ of certain champion athletes based on their clean status and winning results? (How many Trek bikes got sold on the back of Lance Armstrong, pre-scandal?)

With the only deterrent, drug-testing, proven to be as useful as simply asking athletes to be honest about whether they’ve done something naughty? (See Lance again, or Marion Jones.  Or look up Victor Conté and ‘doping in the Olympics)

You don’t need a degree in logic to work out what is happening.

But doped athletes are cheating us! What about all the clean athletes who are dedicated to doing it the right way?  What about Joe Public and their kids, who have a right to see and believe in wholesome, milk-fed champions?

It’s NOT cheating, It’s nothing to do with ethics, morality or integrity, no more than any other big business you care to name.

We live, and always have lived in, a cut-throat society.  Here is the reality, in the 21st Century.

Thousands of children will die today due to starvation.

We, as a society, as a species, let that happen.  And people think something as trivial as professional sports has anything to do with morality or ethics?

The mistake is when people view pro sports as an extrapolation of school sports day, or the weekend jogs and squash club they attend.

We ‘compete’ in amateur sports because it’s where you believe you can participate in the ‘spirit of competition’ amid some good old-fashioned fair play and have a laugh.  We think pro sports should be like that, minus the laughs and plus a bit more science, technology and work ethic.

Actually, it’s like comparing two kids sword fighting with sticks to what Seal Team Six gets up to in Afghanistan.

There’s nothing riding on the former.  Pro sports aren’t quite life or death, but like Special Operations there’s a huge amount of political (read: economic and therefore financial) risk at stake, and the difference between success and failure is measured in widths of an atom.

Pro sports by definition mean there is money at stake in the outcome.  That is all it takes to mean it bears absolutely no relation to your amateur hobbies.

I just don’t understand the pure outrage of some people when you show them the logical facts.

If you are smashing confirmed dopers (à la Bolt, Radcliffe et al) there is zero chance, and I mean it, that you’re natural.

If you don’t believe me because you think drugs don’t work then go ask all the people on Hormone Replacement Therapy or the Pill.

Did you have a coffee this morning?  Do you take paracetamol when you have a headache?  You’ve used chemical substances to improve your performance.  Guess what, that’s doping too.

Honestly, the vitriolic response to a reasonable, logical comment stating that champions must be doping because the people they’re beating are is staggering.

My main question is:  why does anyone care if they’re doping or not?

Is it because they don’t want your heroes to be ‘tarnished’ or that they are afraid to have your rose-coloured view of the world discoloured?

Sportspeople are not heroes, they’re just people who were born with good genetics and have worked hard to excel in one activity.

Is it because sports are the last bastion of morality and fairness in this cruel, cruel world?

See the start of this article.  I hope that by now most adults have realised that Santa Claus doesn’t exist and that Jesus was definitely not a white guy.

Pro sports are money, and just like every other thing in society once money comes into the equation, ethics are quickly bundled into a sack and smuggled out of the building.

I just want to make two things categorically clear.

Number 1.  Professional athletes who dope are NOT cheating. Do they all dope?  The champions and the contenders do.

It is not cheating, or a shortcut, or some sort of lazy way to the top.  Let’s be clear: you can’t get world records by just working hard.  It’s not like a doper can get the results in two years that a natural can only get after 10 years.

A doper can get results in 2 years that a natural can NEVER get.

It’s a completely different game.  It’s the difference between the big leagues and the amateurs.  You just don’t get to play in the big leagues unless you dope, because you simply cannot get that level of performance no matter how hard you work.

i.e. everyone who is posting sub-10 second 100m times is playing in the big leagues.  They DECIDED they wanted to play there.  So they did what it takes to get there.

You don’t get there quicker by doping, nor does doping make it easier to get there.  Doping is just an essential part of the pro sports triumvirate completed by hard training and genetics. 

To me, it’s absolutely no different to someone who is striving to be a top executive and someone who is not.  Those who want to be on top will work long hours (they might even drink a lot of coffee and caffeine to stay alert), schmooze the right people, work themselves all times of the day and do whatever it takes, including back stabbing and being ruthless, to play at the top table.

If you don’t want that, you just do your normal hours.

Aren’t we always being told that the line between success and failure in pro sports is miniscule?  That ‘marginal gains’ can make a huge difference?  That leading coaches and athletes are always looking for the ‘edge’ to win, because that is what it comes down to?

Well what one substance gives you the most advantage? It’s not an ice-bath, I can tell you that.

Does anyone over the age of 12 really, really, genuinely believe that with an advantage like steroids available to them, drugs testing a complete joke and a million pounds available if they win athletes are too moral, too ethical and too downright honest not to use them?

Number 2: opposing doping for the reason of safeguarding the health of the athletes is not an argument.

You know how most people like to poison themselves every weekend with recreational drugs like alcohol, weed and everything else?  Statistically a hell of lot more people die from alcohol than PEDs like steroids.  Yes, a lot more people drink alcohol than take steroids, but even dealing with absolute numbers why are people not being protected from the evils of alcohol by banning it?

If it ever went to a vote, would it get banned?  Never, because no-one wants to live in a paternalistic, dictatorial, Orwellian dystopia where other people tell you what’s good for you.

These top pro athletes decide to do what it takes because they want the rewards.  It is their job.  If you don’t like the drugs, or are worried about your health, you do something else.

Let’s stop all the hand-wringing over an issue that isn’t even an issue, let alone some sort of damaging-the-fabric-of-society/moral conundrum.

Enjoy watching the genetic best push human physiology to the limits, using all available means.  Respect their decision to do what it takes to go as far as possible.

As for ever ‘stamping out doping’ in sports, give me a break.  No-one involved in pro sports, from the anti-doping agencies to the sporting federations to the athletes themselves want that to happen.

Why?  Simply because no-one is going to pay to watch a 10 second 100m now we’ve all seen closer to a 9.5. 


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