A study in France shows 11-year-olds use performance enhancing drugs to improve performance. Marion Jones, drowning in drug allegations, goes broke trying to clearher name. The US golf tour decides it might be time to commence drug testing.
As officials wonder if steroids played a role in a murder-suicide in a wrestler’s family in America, a statistic emerges that 27 professional wrestlers, 45 years old and younger, have died since 1997. In Australia, debate rages over testing athletes for illicit drugs. A new book, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, is released.
All this is just one part of one week’s quota of stories about drugs in sport.
Some stories horrify, some disappoint, some confirm that while this fight will continue forever, for now it is a losing battle.
We are dazed, we are also unsurprised, because we have learnt some athletes are ready to inject themselves with someone else’s frozen blood if it can help them win. Always, someone is willing to let their testicles eventually shrivel and arteries clog in the pursuit of victory. Serious health problems after steroid use arrive in the long term, but athletes only think in the short term.
Pain will come later, victory is now, so pass the syringe.
But, drugs in sport is always complicated, and each story tells its own tale.
The US golf tour’s slow crawl towards drug testing reflects naivety. Despite the reality that humans cheat, and thus athletes cheat, and even the occasional wheelchair athlete, for crying out loud, cheats, golf hasn’t tested because it has believed no golfer cheats.
Golfers police themselves, they own up to their own errors. Nice. But there is an arrogance and danger in suggesting a sport only attracts righteous fellows. Fellows who, by the way, also need to hit drives over 300 yards on a regular basis to be consistently competitive.
Golf asks for finesse, but also for muscle, and the moment strength becomes a major ingredient, as it is in most sport, testing has to be mandatory. Golf cannot expect to be taken seriously as a sport and then behave like some country club pastime.
Yet, while no sport can be precious about drugs any more, neither should athletes be persecuted. Testing for performance enhancing drugs, out of competition, is sound policy. To do so for illicit drugs, a debate under way in Australia, can be bullying of sorts.
To object to drug testing of any sort is to be seen as weakness. Nonsense. No one sensible advocates a sniff of cocaine or the use of ice. But to test only athletes for illicit drugs suggests we are holding them to a sterner standard than the rest of society. To say they are role models is disingenuous for, then, musicians and actors should be tested as well.
What sport needs to focus on more is education. That some 11-year-olds in France see no harm in boosting their bodies is terrifying. Teenagers, across the planet, cannot anyway walk into stores and buy steroids off the shelf, thus suggesting that adults are complicit in most deceptions.
Rationalizations for taking banned substances are many, no doubt put forward by athletes themselves and their ambitious, blind entourages. It will be argued that if their idols do it, then it must be acceptable. That taking EPO is the only way to beat an opponent taking EPO. That, if everyone is doing it, well, then, it is not cheating.
In India, positive drug tests are common, as are used syringes in athletic dormitories. Many of these athletes arrive from towns so insignificant they barely register on maps. Are they educated about nandrolone and EPO and HGH? Do they understand the long-term implications on their bodies, such as cancer? Worse, in a paternalistic sporting set-up, can they say no to coaches holding syringes who can return them to their towns of anonymity?
The idea that the thrill of sport lay in “taking part” is archaic and has been long interred. Winning is the only mantra. At the Atlanta Olympics, a shoe company’s banner echoed a generation’s philosophy: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.”
Not that winning is a faulty lesson to teach, as long as the teachers of it, the coaches, the parents, the sports scientists, remember to tell their wards that there is a difference. Champions sweat, train, punish themselves, they pay the price needed to win. Cheats inject and ingest, they believe in winning at any price.
Write to Rohit at firstname.lastname@example.org