First off, let me state quite plainly that I think doping in sport is wrong and should be weeded out. I won’t get into the messy business of asking why some man-made performance enhancers are ethically OK (vitamins and maltodextrin, for instance) but others (such as EPO) are deemed evil incarnate.
Society decides such things. Yet ‘society’ is a bit flaky on such matters. Sleeping in tents that mimic high-altitude is currently allowed, even though it produces results similar to EPO-use. The World Anti-doping Agency – WADA – keeps looking at normobaric hypoxic tents and may one day ban their use, no doubt leading to a WADA-led witch hunt against any athletes who boosted their blood in this way.
Some sections of ‘society’ used to believe training of any sorts was a sign of “bad sportsmanship.” The 1981 movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ is based on this very idea, demonstrating that in the 1920s, training for an event was a nefarious activity for some, wholly legitimate to others.
Fast forward to today. All athletes must be paragons of virtue. Boonen was prevented from riding this year’s Tour de France because he took drugs. Not drugs that would make him go faster, but recreational drugs. Sure, he was daft to snort the stuff but if the powder didn’t give him any performance benefit whatsoever, why fret?
Anti-doping agencies, on the other hand, are seen to be white knights, fighting the good fight. They can do no wrong. Mistakes? What mistakes? It’s not possible, we’re scientifically 100 percent sound, say the anti-dopers.
Jacques de Ceaurriz, head of the French anti-doping lab that leaks test results to L’Equipe yet is never sanctioned, once famously said the carbon isotope test, used to find synthetic man-juice, was infallible:
“It’s foolproof…No error is possible in isotopic readings.”
No errors possible? Ever? How many scientists in fields other than anti-doping would get away with such tosh?
The attitude of ‘we’re always right, you’re always wrong’ is one that pervades anti-doping science. Precious few journalists question whether the anti-doping labs might sometimes be wrong. False positives and false negatives exist in the world of medicine but not, apparently, in the world of anti-doping, which uses the exact same scientific tests.
Too often journalists swallow what WADA tells them and it doesn’t trouble them when WADA is caught telling mistruths, yet the slightest misdemeanour by an athlete is reported on at length.
It’s been widely reported that WADA is getting ahead of the game and is working with pharmaceutical companies to place marker molecules in the latest performance-enhancing drugs of choice.
Wow, goes the man in the street, WADA deserves all of the massive funding it gets from governments around the world, it’s catching the cheats with clever tricks.
The man in the street moves on to another news story. Shamefully, so do the majority of journalists. WADA got a lot of global press coverage for its work with Roche to place marker molecules in CERA, the so-called ‘Super-EPO’.
John Fahey, the president of WADA, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that Roche Pharmaceuticals had placed a special molecule in CERA when it developed the drug:
“In the development of [Micera] close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was undertaken.”
Well done, WADA.
Except it doesn’t appear to be true. The WADA boss got it wrong. Martina Rupp, a spokeswoman for Roche, told Bloomberg News: “The information that a special molecule has been added to Mircera is wrong.”
So, have journalists widely reported on WADA’s economy with the truth? Of course not. The International Herald Tribune carried the drug company’s denial in the middle of a long article about the Tour in general but the multitude of news sources that rapidly spread Fahey’s molecule claim have been strangely silent on the Roche rebuffal.
UPDATE: Cyclingnews.com isn’t one of them, it has today carried news of the “mistake”. Naturally, WADA is allowed to make such mistakes, just as WADA-accredited labs can break all sorts of rules without being sanctioned. But when an athlete, by mistake, chooses a US version of Vicks thinking it’ll be just the same as the UK version, he’s hauled over the coals and loses his Olympic medal.
AFTER SIX WEEKS of deliberation, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has decided to confirm the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board’s decision to disqualify Alain Baxter from the men’s alpine skiing slalom event at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.
Baxter finished third in the slalom and was awarded the bronze medal, but a subsequent doping test revealed traces of methamphetamine in his urine sample – a stimulant on the IOC’s list of prohibited substances.
Though Baxter maintained that the US Vicks nasal inhaler he used prior to the slalom race contained levmetamfetamine – a non-performance enhancing isomer of methamphetamine – the CAS ruled that the anti-doping code of the Olympic movement prohibits all forms of methamphetamine and the presence of any prohibited substance results in automatic disqualification, whether or not ingestion was intentional.
“The panel is not without sympathy for Mr Baxter, who appears to be a sincere and honest man who did not intend to obtain a competitive advantage in the race,” the tribunal concluded.
“Alain has paid a most severe penalty for a modest mistake and it is clear that the principle of strict liability under-scored this decision,” added Simon Clegg, Chief Executive of the BOA.
“I know that I can continue to look Alain in the eye with confidence that he did not knowingly take the US Vick’s inhaler to enhance his performance.”
WADA can make mistakes, athletes can’t. Athletes can be banned under the ‘strict liability’ rule, but WADA and its accredited labs can mess up left, right and centre and only a tiny minority of people seem to care about such lop-sided justice.
Sure, the anti-doping science will catch a lot of cheats and, when proved, the cheats should be hung out to dry, but the science will also finger some innocent athletes. That’s not me being naive or ‘soft on drugs cheats’, it’s a plain scientific fact.
Ah, but the innocent will always be proven so, you might think. Not on your nelly. The system is rigged against athletes. Many of those who claim innocence are guilty as sin. But some of those who claim innocence, truly are. The appeals system, as it stands, is a sham.
One good way for the anti-doping system to be brought up to standard would be for performance-enhancing drug use to become “sporting fraud”, as has happened in France. That way the police get involved and they have to provide genuine evidence to convince prosecuting authorities. Accused athletes would then truly get “their day in court” and anti-doping labs would have to prove their methods and their ISLs (International Standard for Laboratories, PDF) were up to scratch.