Medicos say war on sports drugs isn’t working

This week’s British Medical Journal includes 18 pages of research and analysis on the health risks and benefits of exercise. It also carries a polemic from Swiss and Australian researchers who claim the war against doping in sports is flawed.

‘Globalisation of anti-doping: the reverse side of the medal’ is by Bengt Kayser, professor and director of the institute of movement sciences and sports medicine at the University of Geneva, and Aaron CT Smith, professor and director of sport and leisure management at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

The subhead says:

“Current anti-doping policy is sufficiently problematic to call for debate and change.”

The article – peer reviewed by many academics – says:

The reasons advanced for anti-doping policy are flawed and do not warrant strong punishment and costly repression of doping practices;

The effects of prohibition as a means for regulating doping behaviour remain unclear, so the emphasis should be on developing an evidence base regarding any detrimental effects of performance enhancement technologies in order to dissuade potential users rather than coerce them, and to ensure that anti-doping policy does not induce more harm in society than it prevents;

Testing for doping in bodily specimens will never uncover all use of forbidden substances or methods, as false negatives and false positives are inherent to testing but are unacceptable in sport because athletes can never be considered truly clean; false accusations should be avoided;
[my emphasis – Floyd Landis might smile, wryly, at that section]

Rules and sampling procedures associated with testing protocols impinge on athletes’ privacy to an unreasonable degree and violate basic notions of personal freedom and self regulation;

The “war on doping” and the “war on drugs” tend to converge, as exemplified by the presence of recreational and performance impairing drugs like marihuana on the list of prohibited drugs; [my emphasis – Tom Boonen might smile, wryly, at that section]

Outside the sporting field, enhancement technologies like cosmetic surgery and eye surgery and use of substances like caffeine, fluoxetine, modafinil, sildenafil, methylphenidate, and anti-ageing drugs are an increasingly accepted social behaviour; this places zero tolerance for enhancement in sport at odds with broader social values.

The main photograph on the piece is of Belgian cyclist Kevin van Impe who was famously compelled by an anti-doping doc to produce a urine sample while preparing his son’s funeral at a crematorium.