by CATO RAND
One of the strong points of Right From Yaad is that while Kavon and I share similar views on most issues, we are not a monolith. I must say that I will not go along with his assertion (in two previous posts here and here) that we need to end testing for drugs in sports.
That being said, the use of drugs in sports is as old as the proverbial hills. The ancient Greeks experimented with dried figs as early as the 668 BC Olympics and are thought to have eaten animal and human testes to boost testosterone levels.
Considering the rewards that today’s top sportsman or sportswoman can earn, the motivation to cheat is easy to grasp. After all they are handsomely paid and their earnings can transform not only their lives, but those of many generations of their progeny. I once heard Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio remark that he had some inside information on Tiger Woodʼs finances, and Tiger was saving – not simply earning- millions of dollars monthly (this was prior to his meltdown which commenced with the infamous crashing of his SUV into the fire hydrant outside his home on Thanksgiving Night 2009). And the idolatry exhibited by the Jamaican fan must be approaching if not surpassing that of the Greeks in the early days of the Olympics.
We primarily participate in spectator sports because we want to experience that unbridled joy when we see athletes reach new milestones. I think this will be diminished for the majority of fans if we allow unfettered use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Sports allows us to celebrate the possibility of Man. We want to to celebrate what truly gifted individuals are able to do. We do know that athletic achievements are not only due to God given natural talent. It’s not just about strength, speed and stamina. Other variables are involved – dedication, luck, mental toughness, strategy, etc. all play a part but we want to think that only these factors have gone into the 100 meters now being run in 9.58 seconds.
We do know however that its very likely that many of these mind altering, jaw dropping, logic defying athletic performances – including many by our own Jamaican athletes – are aided by PEDs. Not testing positive for PEDs is no guarantee of being clean .
Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones (tested over 160 times ) never officially failed a drug test. Jonesʼ PED use was only brought to light when her coach, former Jamaican Olympian Trevor Graham, had a fall out with then 100 meter record holder Tim Montgomery and supplied authorities with a syringe containing Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG or ‘the clear’ ), a drug that had been administered to a number of athletes including Montgomery and Jones. In those days samples were first heated when testing for steroids and the cheaters ingeniously came up with a steroid that disintegrated once the sample was heated. Now I would speculate that if Graham were willing to voluntarily expose ʻthe clearʼ he must have had a new more potent if not harder to detect drug on hand.
Interestingly one of the cyclists whose confession led to the unravelling of the myth of Lance Armstrong, unwittingly admitted to the authorities that he was taking erythropoietin because he thought a sample he had submitted would implicate him. If he had just kept his mouth shut he would most likely be just fine since the sample came back negative for the presence of any PEDs.
Fans of cycling knew all along that Lance was not clean as it was just not possible for him to so dominate the sport no matter how gifted he was. Just about every cyclist who stood on the podium with Lance during his 7 consecutive Tour de France triumphs was subsequently found to be a drug cheat. I had hoped that during Lanceʼs recent interview with Oprah we would have learned how he was able to evade detection despite being tested so often.
Interestingly, Ben Johnson who was able to initially beat the system and then tested positive at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is said to have been on just about every then known steroid but the Stanozolol that was detected in his urine.
I do agree that athletes will be some steps ahead of the testers and authorities but I donʼt know if this is compelling enough reason to call it quits. For those athletes who donʼt cheat – however miniscule a number that currently is – we owe it to them for their integrity to be recognized. I acknowledge the lag of several years between availability of new drug and application of effective detection methods but – to use the now favorite word of the Jamaican politician – ‘there may be a game changer on the horizon’. The biological passport.
We have come a long way from the International Association of Athletics Federation in 1928 banning doping when no tests were available and relied on the athleteʼs word, to the first testing of athletes at the 1968 European Championship, to the use of the biological passport in which monitoring of selected biological parameters over time will indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempts to detect the doping substance itself.
Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugus report on their The Science of Sport website on the effect of the introduction of the passport in EPO use by cyclists in the Tour de France, In 2001 some 14% of blood samples were indicative of EPO use and this number fell to 10% in 2007 with the introduction of urine test for EPO in 2002 and further to 2% in 2010 after the 2007 implementation of the biological passport.
Needless to say the use of the biological passport has its critics. Disgraced Tour de France champion Floyd Landis, who lost a costly 4-year battle to overturn his conviction for steroid use during the 2006 Tour de France eventually admitted his doping use, remarked that cyclists knew how to defeat the biological passport before it was introduced. And others have indicated that the passport which uses statistical analyses may result in an unacceptably high number of false positives – fingering clean athletes who look dirty on a test.
I do not buy the argument that with the level playing field that many assume will ensue with the end of drug testing it will primarily be the more naturally gifted athletes that will continue to dominate. Performance enhancing drugs can elevate mediocre athletes to elite status. In the 1970s and 80s East Germany had a state-sponsored drug programme which resulted in a number of Track and Field records which are still standing or only recently surpassed. That whole programme was a propaganda tool of the Communist GDR regime.
Female East Germans no longer post world leading times and it seems implausible that they will return to the realm of premier sprinters any time soon.
Each sport has rules that participants must adhere to and if infringed a penalty is awarded. We donʼt allow throwing in cricket, or traveling in basket ball. If we eliminate drug testing why not make anything goes in sports and throw away the rules book. With the elimination of drug testing I think the integrity of sports will suffer. Authorities may be behind in the arms race at present but that does not mean that with sustained effort that gap cannot be closed.
Sports provides the opportunity for man to celebrate human achievement much like nothing else. It’s the paramount reason why sports is such an indelible part of the human existence. I think that removing drug testing will eliminate the fundamental essence of sports. I am sure that we could acknowledge the new drug enhanced athlete but it just would not be the same.
Most sports fans are engaged in Tiger Woodsʼ pursuit of Jack Nicklausʼ record 18 major Golf titles (6 Masters, 4 US Open, 3 British Open, 5 PGA ) but will we see Tigerʼs achievement in the same light if it is discovered that he was using beta blockers to steady his hand while putting? If we came of age in an environment allowing unfettered access to PEDs I suspect we would celebrate as we now do but we havenʼt and I donʼt think that in response to drug use by athletes we should move in a direction to eliminate testing for PEDs. Let’s go the other way to make the use of drugs even more of an anathema. The outright prevention of doping is impossible but efforts to limit cheating should continue – as Sisyphean as it might seem. Let’s be committed to restricting the use of PEDs to the continued effort to massage the male ego.
By the way what has become of former standout athlete Jacqueline Pusey?
Cato Rand is a Black Jamaican of Libertarian and Conservative persuasion. He is a fervent believer in Capitalism, Freedom and the principles outlined by the US Constitution and it being applicable to all peoples, including Jamaicans. He is a strong advocate for the limited role that a government should play in the lives of people.