by Kavon Fiennes
Sooooo…..at the Ice-Fishing Championships the US Anti-Doping Agency was testing ice-fisher folk (competitors) for drugs. Yes you read correctly. This is a necessary hurdle to clear because Ice-Fishing may become a Winter Olympics event. Incredible. When will it end? My real question is, when will we simply allow all athletes the freedom to dope? We need to stop testing for drugs in sport.
Most elite athletes in order to compete and beat the best at the highest level are very likely ‘using’. I doubt this is the case in ice-fishing. However, let us not fool ourselves, Lance Armstrong (“the greatest American cyclist?”) was never caught red handed so to speak and neither was Marion Jones. They confessed after pressure was brought to bear. ‘Roids’ are widely used in modern baseball and athletics’ history has a less than clean image. Most recently legendary middle distance runner Moses Kiptanui from Kenya made claims that doping was rife in Kenya.
I digress. In Jamaica, it is taboo to mention drugs in association with our athletics, because we believe in the incredulous story of the yellow yam with its phyto-sterols, as the source of our prowess. Any consideration of a link based on just evidence of performance risks a label of “anti-Jamaican”, despite positive tests in our athletes over the years (For example in 1999 and 2009).
But back to my topic…..There are tremendous gains to be made for winners in elite sporting competition. The worldwide fame, glory, adoration, hero-worship, VIP treatment and multi-million product endorsement deals are extremely tempting.
I read an article by Michael Shermer The Doping Dilemma, from an April 2008 issue of Scientific American Magazine a few years ago. In it he used Game Theory to explain the fundamental reasons how and why elite athletes cheat the system resulting in the pervasive use of drugs in cycling, baseball and other sports (including athletics).
In the The Doping Dilemma, Shermer states:
“Game theory is the study of how players in a game choose strategies that will maximize their return in anticipation of the strategies chosen by the other players. The “games” for which the theory was invented are not just gambling games such as poker or sporting contests in which tactical decisions play a major role; they also include deadly serious affairs in which people make economic choices, military decisions and even national diplomatic strategies. What all those “games” have in common is that each player’s “moves” are analyzed according to the range of options open to the other players.”
Modern game theory was brought to the fore of popular culture by the depiction of the schizophrenic Economics Nobel Laureate John Nash in the Hollywood Film A Beautiful Mind.
Shermer’s clincher statement:
“Just as in evolution there is an arms race between predators and prey, in sports there is an arms race between drug takers (sportsmen) and drug testers (the authorities). In my opinion, the testers are five years away from catching the takers–and always will be. Those who stand to benefit most from cheating will always be more creative than those enforcing the rules, unless the latter have equivalent incentives.”
Sportsmen are under tremendous pressure to win, their livelihoods depend on it. They must dope in order to compete and market their trade.
Just as how the Prohibition of alcohol led to the rise of crime syndicates in the early 20th century in the US; and similarly prohibition of illicit drugs has done the same since the latter part of the 20th century, banning doping in sports will lead to widespread illegal and perhaps dangerous activities behind the scenes.
The tighter the authorities clamp down on doping, the greater the rewards for cheating. As a consequence of making performance enhancing drugs illegal in sports, a black market for these substance is in existence. The veil hiding the dangers of the black market has been lifted in one large sports market ‘Down Under’, where the link between organized crime and team sport was revealed recently in the ‘Darkest Day’ in Australia.
Shermer also suggests we can use game theory to catch doping cheats. I believe we should let them be. Testing for drugs is an attempt to prevent an unfair advantage for some competitors over others; and supposedly to prevent long term health risks. I really don’t think we can do this efficiently. Plus it quite costly.
However if we allow everyone to be free to ‘use’, that will level the playing field, and sport would be played at a higher level as argued by Chris Smith from Forbes Magazine, in his article Why It’s Time To Legalize Steroids in Professional Sports.
The choices that sportsmen make are theirs and theirs alone. They put themselves at risk by just participating in various endeavours. Whatever the physical consequences of doping down the road are theirs alone to bear. We cannot protect people from themselves. Therefore, I think it is high time to end drug testing in sport.
Kavon Fiennes is creator of the RightFromYaad blog. He is a 30-something year old ‘Black’, sometimes ‘Brown’, Jamaican. He is a former socialist, nationalist and Democrat, turned Libertarian and semi-conservative since his mid 20′s. He still holds lingering left-wing views on the way society ought to treat the destitute and elderly.