Many sumo wrestlers lose weight when they retire (it takes them three to four years ... investigation into baseball's steroid era, Juicing The Game - drugs, power, ...
For: Sport, Music, Identities Love is the drug: Performance-enhancing in sport and music Jed Novick, University of Brighton Rob Steen, University of Brighton
Todd admits he got lucky; he had a good trip. ‘I had a peyote button in my mouth. Drugs were a mental tool. I found a certain equilibrium.’ A single album clocking in at 19 tracks and 56 minutes, [A Wizard, A True Star], as Todd’s liner notes record, ‘exceeded the practical norm by at least six or seven minutes per side’. The reminder prompts a hearty snigger: ‘Music people say, “What do you have the right to play?” I wanted to do any damn thing I wanted.’ Yet for all that, Wizard has a formidable sense of structure.[i]
‘Is your doctor on drugs? If not, perhaps they should be.’ Thus ran the introduction to a story published in the Sunday Times in October 2011. The subject was a study led by Lord Darzi, professor of surgery at Imperial College London and a junior health minister under the previous Labour government, one prompted by concerns about caffeine, the fatigued surgeon’s traditional drug of choice, and its potential for causing hand tremors. Barbara Sahakian, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge University, and her research colleague, Charlotte Housden, gave sleep-deprived surgeons modafinil, a brain stimulant known to boost memory and brain power, then tested their capacity to think clearly, solve difficulties and execute simulated operations. Although the drug had yet to undergo long-term safety tests, Professor Sahakian proposed that it could be sold over the counter: ‘We found that when surgeons had taken modafinil they saw sharp improvements in their ability to solve problems and think flexibly. In fact, their performance was very good.’ [ii]
Ah, performance. They may not ply their trade in front of audience or cameras but surgeons are still engaged in one. While it might be pushing a point to argue that our surgeons should take performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), the question of who can and who can’t is one that has and continues trouble us.
For many athletes, life is preparation for a single moment. They train, they wait, they sleep, they train, they wait. For that moment. They do everything they can to prepare for that moment, to make themselves the best they can possibly be. For that moment. But consider this. Imagine you’re that athlete. What if you could make yourself better than you could possibly be? No one would know – it’s new, undetectable. Imagine the temptation. You could be everything you ever wanted. You could go beyond where you imagined. You could push and push and push. Imagine the temptation. There’s fame and fortune, sure, but there’s something else too. There’s the achievement, the performance.
Take it away from the sporting arena for a minute. Take the idea into the arts. That’s a world where you don’t have to imagine that temptation. You can succumb to it. And plenty have – with often quite extraordinary results (and not just the Bradley Cooper character in the 2011 movie Limitless, a blocked writer who suddenly takes wing with a little help from his friend NZT, a clever little pill that allows him to access memories instantly and concentrate as never before). Would Byron and Shelley have been the creative artists they were if it hadn’t have been for laudunum? Would David Bowie have made Station to Station if he hadn’t been caught in a cocaine blizzard? Would John Lennon have written ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ if the strongest thing he’d taken was a cup of coffee? Would Aldous Huxley have been the writer he was if he hadn’t been given the keys to the doors of perception? It’s hard not to think of Harry Lime from Graham Greene’s The Third Man: ‘In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’
Different people, Different worlds Of all life’s simple pleasures, there is none more simple or more pleasurable than watching someone do something really well. To see mastery at work, technical expertise, artistic perfection: this is the food of life. A Roger Federer backhand, a Michael Clark dance, a Peter O’Toole film, David Bowie singing… We could go on, but just consider that list: a Swiss tennis player, a Scottish dancer, an Irish actor, an English singer. Different people, different disciplines, different worlds. But despite those differences, there’s more that unites than divides. They’ve all been at the very top of their particular tree. All not just good, not just the best, but the best with a flourish, with style, with grace. With that singular desire to do things their way. There’s something else too. They’re united not only by their common genius, but also by their unanimity of purpose – to entertain, enlighten and excel. One thing though separates them – us. Our attitude towards them separates them.
We’re interested in them, intrigued by them, even fascinated by them. We want to read about them, we want to know who they are and what they do. We follow their careers and await their new works. We care about them. We make judgements about them. Actually…cancel that. We only make judgements about some of them.
Of the four people mentioned, one is a gay former heroin addict, one is a reformed drunk, one created some of the most innovative music of the late 20th century while strung out on cocaine, and one is a Swiss tennis player. No one would care if Clark was the gay former junkie, the reformed drunk or the ex-cokehead. And if anyone did care, they’d care in a caring way, a worried way, a ‘Is he going to be OK?’ way. They wouldn’t care that he might upset his fellow dancers, that he might scare off the sponsors, that he might encourage impressionable young dancers to stray off the straight and narrow. Now imagine the scenario if Federer was the gay former junkie, the reformed drunk or the ex-cokehead. Well, you can probably forget those ostentatiously yet stylishly logo’d headbands for a start.
Why are our attitudes towards the behaviour of professional sportsmen so different to our attitudes to musicians, artists, actors, poets… just about everyone else really? If what you do, if how you express yourself, is artistic then you have licence – artistic licence – to be what you want, be who you want. If you want to drink or take drugs, fine. Survive and we’ll call you a national treasure. Don’t survive? Never mind. You’ll be a tortured genius and we’ll make a fortune repackaging your back catalogue.
A large part of this difference in attitude comes down to the view that, somehow and for some reason, sports figures are considered ‘role models’. For Simon Barnes of The Times, this has become a recurring source of tempered fury. In May 2011, in response to the lifting of the superinjunction Ryan Giggs, the Manchester United footballer, had obtained in order to prevent his marital infidelity reaching the public domain, he wrote: ‘Behaviour we wouldn’t blink an eye at in a film star, still less a rock star, is considered shocking and worthy of vast newspaper space when it’s a sports star.’[iii]
What ‘disturbed’ him was ‘humbug’ of it all, ‘the great rush to attribute to athletes in general and footballers in particular virtues that they don’t possess and don’t really aspire to. When I hear the term Role Model I release the safety catch on my Browning. Likewise Ambassador. Likewise Great Servant of the Game. I don’t wish to jump too heavily on Giggs, no matter what he has done. I just loathe the stench of the Humbug Industry that he has been part of for 20 years.’ For a definition of humbug, he invoked Matilda in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time: ‘I’m speaking of making claims to a degree of virtue, purity, anything you like to call it – morals, politics, the arts, any field you prefer – which the person concerned neither possesses nor is seriously attempting to attain. They just flatter themselves that they are like that.’[iv]
‘Pop stars get a much better deal from our red-tops, or, rather, from our set of social prejudices,’ argued Barnes. ‘Look at Mick Jagger: a lifetime of sexual scandals, conspicuous bad behaviour and a fair amount of drugs, and now he’s Sir Michael. [Keith] Richards, his Rolling Stones co-writer, wrote an autobiography full of sex and drugs, and he’s a national treasure: what a wonderful old geezer, surviving all those drugs. But if sports stars are to reap the rewards of fame, they must be conspicuously virtuous. It’s part of the package, which is why sports stars are so uniquely vulnerable to, ah, exposure. The problem is not with sports stars, or even with newspapers, it is in our need to see sports stars as morally admirable people.’[v]
Further grist to the Barnes mill arrived at summer’s end when a comparatively tame visit by members of England’s World Cup rugby union squad to a bar in New Zealand – where the main entertainment was the highly dubious pastime of ‘dwarf-throwing’, in which the players took no part – fuelled a week’s worth of front- and back-page headlines. This inarguably excessive reaction, born of flagging sales, was primarily attributable to the fact that the captain, Mike Tindall, who had been photographed cavorting with a young woman, had recently wedded a prominent Royal, Princess Zara. ‘We have higher standards for professional athletes than we do for estate agents, accountants, journalists, butchers, bakers and candle- stick makers,’ contended Barnes. ‘That counts double when they are representing England or Great Britain, and you can turn that doubling cube once and once more when you’ve established a royal connection. Turn it all the way up to 64 if you can bring in a dwarf.’ Professional sportspeople, he concluded, have become the ‘naughty vicars’ of the 21st century, obliged to bear a ‘moral burden’ and set an example for which they have ‘no inclination and little enough aptitude’.[vi] If a rock star had indulged the way that the England rugby players did, the very least they could expect would be a boost to sales and a cover story in the music press.
Altered states Nowhere is the gulf between musician and athlete more starkly apparent than in the sphere of drugs. Quincy Jones warned that cocaine ‘separates you from your soul’ and it most certainly helped separate Marvin Gaye from his.[vii] There is no need here, moreover, to name those musicians whose creative flow was slowed, stemmed and ultimately destroyed by what they elected to ingest. It would be blinkered, nonetheless, to ignore the benefits.
It was in the mid-1960s, attested Paul McCartney, that the link between music and mind-altering substances became more overt, and even respectable:
[Once] pot was established as part of the curriculum you started to get a bit more surreal material coming from us, a bit more abstract stuff. It was just the first time I’d been exposed to all these new influences and had the time and inclination to bother with them all. I always have to give marijuana credit for that. It was Bob Dylan that turned us on to pot in America and it opened a different kind of sensibility really; more like jazz musicians.[viii]
The influence of drugs on The Beatles’ development from mop-topped popsters to boundary-shifting explorers has often been noted, ad nauseam in the case of ‘A Day in the Life’. Suffice to say that ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was actually McCartney’s ‘ode to pot, like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret’.[ix]
To learn that Todd Rundgren, one of modern music’s most inventive forces, attributed what is now widely held to be his finest achievement to mind- altering substances – and the creative advances of his previous two albums, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren and Something/Anything?, to marijuana and Ritalin respectively - is merely to underscore a cultural tradition. The Doors’ first, game-changing album was fuelled by acid, as were Brian Wilson’s finest flights of fancy, albeit at severe cost to his sanity; Eric Clapton wrote ‘Layla’ while addicted to heroin.
Bill Flanagan was fascinated by all this. In Written In My Soul – Conversations with Rock’s Great Songwriters he interviewed rock royalty from Chuck Berry to Bono and almost invariably asked whether their drug habits enhanced their work. James Taylor freely admitted to penning ‘an awful lot of songs stoned’. Drugs eventually ‘turned’ on him, but ‘I certainly wrote a lot of songs during that period’.[x] While making On the Beach, his first overtly political album, Neil Young remembers ‘doing a lot of honey slides’ (‘marijuana and honey fried on a plate’), which altered how he sang - ‘Close you right down, make your voice lower.’[xi] Pete Townshend concurred with Flanagan: it really was a ‘dangerous’ question:
People who discourage people from experimenting with narcotics mustn’t lie. They mustn’t say it makes you feel bad. It doesn’t. It hooks you because it makes you feel so good. Interestingly enough, during my honeymoon period with heroin I wrote nothing… So I think it’s not so much alcohol or drugs themselves which are the keys to creativity, but the fact that for certain individuals suffering and discomfort start you off on some new pursuit for understanding and possibly even for the different kind of pleasure release which the adrenaline rush of creativity produces.[xii]
Much of the Rolling Stones’ most memorable and accomplished work was achieved under the direction of Keith Richards and his unslakeable thirst for anything that would get him high. Adamant as he was that the impact on the creative process, in a positive sense, was negligible, there can be little doubt that he used drugs to enhance performance. After all, as he saw it, it was a practical imperative:
Usually drug taking in music starts off on a very, very mundane level, just keeping going to make the next gig. It starts with popping a few white crosses just to be able to stand up after driving 500 miles across the desert…It’s the truck driver mentality: ‘Do you want me to crash this sucker or do you want me to stay awake?’… I started taking stuff in order to be able to get to the gig and actually be in a conscious state to play and do the job that I was getting paid to do. This is when most musicians get into it.[xiii]
Rundgren felt differently. By the time he began creating and recording A Wizard, A True Star in 1972, he had developed a taste for all manner of psychedelics, including DMT, mescaline, psilocybin, mushrooms (but not acid). The result was a musical smorgasboard spanning Broadway, Motown, Philly Soul, Krautrock, heavy metal, glam-rock, anthemic pop and piano-led ballads – all this while anticipating the rise of electro. Upon release the following year it made sense to few, admittedly, and scuppered his future as a chart-troubler, but time and musical evolution have elevated its reputation; bright young things such as Animal Collective and Hot Chip have hailed it for the way it expanded the possibilities of popular music and broadened their own horizons. Rundgren has never tried to separate input from output:
I became more aware of what music and sound were like in my internal environment, and how different that was from the music I had been making. My new challenge was to try to map, as directly as I could, the various kinds of chaotic musical element in my head. There were sounds that make you think of things like frickin’ dogs fighting, laughter or song fragments that don’t complete themselves. All these little musical instrumental bits that are essentially supposed to create some sort of imagery without the benefit of lyrics. It was very ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder – over-activity, hyperactivity), actually, and I wouldn’t dwell on whether a musical idea was complete or not. In that way, it sort of resembled the arc of a psychedelic experience.[xiv]
Whether we cite F Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholism, Georgette Heyer popping amphetamines, Van Morrison rapping about ‘Wordsworth an’ Coleridge, smokin’ up in Kendal’ or Charlie Parker’s audience exhorting him to ever-greater flights of polyrhythmic invention knowing full well that he used heroin to attain them, drugs have not only long been tolerated in the creative arts but encouraged, even demanded, and not solely as creative inspiration but as prima facie evidence of a life on the edge, full of unorthodoxy, defiance and rebellion, glamour, thrills and danger. When they finish an album, concert or tour, the only drug-testers hovering in their vicinity are looking for a sale.
The unwritten code No prominent British sportswriter openly advocates the decriminalisation of performance-enhancing drugs. To do so would be to break an unwritten code and risk the readers’ opprobrium. Short of advocating match-fixing, for which there can be no credible argument, suggesting that the so-called war on drugs is not only unwinnable but unnecessary is the sportswriter’s last taboo. Why is this the case? Why are performance-enhancing drugs illegal? As Mathew Syed says in Bounce: The Making of Champions, ‘The question is worth considering for at least one simple reason: the battle against drugs in sport is failing.’
Crime detection almost always follows crime, not the other way round. Similarly, PEDs are probably – possibly – almost certainly used by athletes in every sport at every level. Athletes who are caught face severe reprisals: they are stripped of any titles won while on drugs, they are given lengthy bans, they are banned from the next Olympics, they're fined, they face criminal action, they’re disgraced. They risk not only their careers, they risk their lives.
Almost all PEDs carry serious health risks; some can cause tumours, others cause heart failure. Athletes risk everything by taking drugs, but take them they do. There are plenty of other things they use to improve their ability. Science is now applied in almost every aspect of sport from diet to training to equipment. So why is it so different to use drugs to boost performance? Isn't doping just another area of scientific advancement in an era where our understanding of the world and its workings is better than ever?
The question is this: why shouldn't athletes be able to use drugs to boost performance? If they're willing to gamble their health why shouldn't they be allowed to? After all, it's their health to gamble?
Take the curious case of sumo wrestlers in Japan. The stars are feted, treated like royalty, like rock stars. Yet the average life expectancy of a sumo wrestler is 65 years - 10 years younger than other Japanese men. Many sumo wrestlers lose weight when they retire (it takes them three to four years to go back to a normal weight) but by that time they have permanent joint damage to their ankles, knees and hips. Others are sidelined by joint injuries and conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which make them bow out of the sport at the height of their careers.[xv]
The question is further complicated when it seems, on occasion, that some drugs are acceptable. During the 2012 Australian Open, tennis players from Gael Monfils to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had access to a variety of painkillers – drugs to help them get through the gruelling competition. A little something to help get through to the end. This isn’t to suggest for a minute that anything they did was illegal or that anything they took was illegal, merely to point out the inconsistencies that make definitive argument difficult. In the same way that a tennis player is allowed to have a coach treat him or her for cramp or blisters or somesuch, yet marathon runners are not afforded the same luxuries. By the same token, the golfer Tiger Woods is just one of many to have had LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis) eye surgery.[xvi] This surgery tends to improve sight to better than average. Usually, successful operations improve eyesight to 20/15 (the LASIK patient can see at 20ft what the average person can see at 15). In some cases it has been improved as much as 20/10.[xvii]
There have also been cases of athletes, particularly baseball players wanting to have so-called Tommy John surgery. The surgery gets its name from the Hall of Fame pitcher Tommy John, the first pitcher to have the surgery in 1974. It involves replacing ligament from the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, such as forearm or hamstring. The procedure is usually only performed to alleviate elbow injury but some within baseball believe it can improve performance due to some pitchers seemingly being able to pitch faster thereafter.[xviii]
Our own views, typically, are complex. On the one hand, since the war on drugs in general is unwinnable, as politicians from all three major parties in England concluded in November 2011, surely the money spent on policing, prosecution and imprisonment would be better lavished on treatment for sufferers. On the other, since it is far from uncommon for aspiring athletes to gravitate to doping merely in order to make their college team, it could equally be argued that the need to pursue those who supply them is more pressing than ever. For many years, one of us was utterly convinced that there was no point whatever, given the proliferation of masking agents and the mounting expertise of our chemists, in not legalising drug use. The battle to combat it was hugely costly, the guilty verdicts all too easily, and all too often, overturned. Besides, if the greatest physical risk was to the sportsmen themselves, then that was their funeral. Then, via Howard Bryant’s superb and comprehensive investigation into baseball’s steroid era, Juicing The Game - drugs, power, and the fight for the soul of Major League Baseball (2006), he learned of two students who had recently died as a consequence of the after-effects. Steroids can cause depression; one of the unfortunate youths committed suicide. Conviction was immediately shaken.[xix]
Robert Lipsyte, the revered American sportswriter and novelist, once a confidant of Muhammad Ali and now, as he puts it, a ‘recovering sportswriter’, recognized the roots of this development all too clearly. ‘With all the leaked BALCO papers, the reefer madness warnings from anti- doping officials and the media moralizing about big-league enhanced performers, there isn't much hard information on steroids and sports, especially its effect on the fastest-growing population of users, high school athletes. No one wants to deal with it, I think, because all that entertainment money is beginning to cascade down to the high school level and everybody wants a taste.’[xx]
The 2011 News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford University, Matthew Engel, meanwhile, expressed the views of the apparently universal majority in a column for the Financial Times:
Other than “Whither the Middle East?” there are few subjects more depressing for a column than drugs in sport. Firstly, the topic is inherently less interesting than sport itself. Secondly, it’s difficult to say anything coherent because even those people (especially those people, in fact) who are widely known to be drug-takers have ferocious lawyers ready to pounce on the hint of an unsubstantiated allegation. Thirdly, the pieces are usually full of long words or initials that make the reader feel incredibly ignorant for not knowing the precise chemical properties of THG, HGH, EPO or whatever. And fourthly, it’s all so damnably dismal. And of late, the drugs crises seem to be merging into one long litany of empty bottles, poisoned competitions and poisoned bodies – in cycling, in athletics, in baseball, all over the place. And those are just the sports we know about. Never mind the ones where the drug culture remains hidden.[xxi]
‘Politicians from countries desperate for the nationalistic kick that comes from winning Olympic gold,’ he justly added, ‘are themselves often complacent at best, or compliant at worst. And the competitors themselves are never guilty, are they? The dog ate my B-sample. It was something my granny gave me to cure a headache. The administrators fouled up the testing process.’[xxii]
Engel certainly held no truck with the stance of the Oxford University ethicist Julian Savulescu, to wit: ‘I would prefer my child take anabolic steroids and growth hormone than play rugby. Growth hormone is safer than rugby. At least I don't know of any cases of quadriplegia caused by growth hormone.’[xxiii] Nor did Engel look best pleased when informed that one of our journalism students had proposed, in an article for Overtimeonline.co.uk, the University of Brighton webzine, that we ought to be encouraging the pursuit of excellence by any means that does not involve defying the regulations or intentionally sabotaging the opposition. ‘Let them eat steroids’ was the gist of it. Such sentiments, though, proffer evidence that, among the young, public attitudes may be softening.
Increasing tolerance Hans Vangrunderbeek and Jan Tolleneer reinforce this impression. For eight years between 1998 and 2006, they surveyed first-year undergraduates on a degree course in human movement sciences at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Students were asked to assemble a portfolio of 10 to 50 cuttings from the daily and weekly press on a wide range of subjects ‘related to the manifestation, social meaning and scientific analysis of sports and physical education’.[xxiv] Two seminars were organized every academic year and when dealing with doping in sport ‘none of the tutors took up a particular point of view but restricted themselves to the clarification of pro and contra arguments’ presented in the media and research literature. Teaching staff observed ‘an increasingly lenient attitude’, with rising numbers of students appearing to ‘criticise the rigid, internationally promoted ‘zero tolerance’ policy’.[xxv][xxvi]
During the first five years of the survey, up to 2002-03, more than 80% of the portfolios contained at least one article about doping in elite sport. By 2005 the apparent level of interest had dropped to 60%; by the final year, the proportion was just 34%.[xxvii] More significantly, whereas the ‘zero tolerance’ category attracted the highest number of students each year – and as many as 69% to 85% during the first six years – the share dipped below 50% in 2005-06. And while the ‘tolerance’ category accounts for 2% to 11% over four of those first six years, in 1999 and 2000 it leaps beyond 20%. In the final year, the share of ‘indifferent’ students rose to a peak of 36%.[xxviii] ‘Our results make clear,’ state the authors, ‘that, from 2004 on, the 18-year-old students become more tolerant towards doping use.’[xxix]
By way of a further exhibit, Vangrunderbeek and Tolleneer cite a New York Times public opinion poll in 2003 that highlighted ‘significant’ generational differences: while 34% of the older respondents were ‘unconcerned’ and 31% ‘disturbed’ by doping, among those in the 18-29 age category, the respective figures were 41% and a mere 15%.[xxx] A survey in another American newspaper, the Denver Post, found that 39% of respondents aged between 18 and 34 advocated legalisation (under medical supervision) while more than 50% had ‘little or no objection’ to PEDs.[xxxi] The growth of gene doping, Vangrunderbeek and Tolleneer conclude, will be the next step towards redefining our approach to drugs in sport ‘as a much more complicated ethical issue’.
Governing bodies, understandably, are taking time to accept this shift in perception, representing as it does a dilution of damnation. Cue County Hall, October 2011, and the Science and Ethics in Sport symposium. The event was supported by politicians, The Times and the Sports Journalists’ Association as well as Laureus, which claims to use ‘the power of sport to help tackle pressing social challenges through a worldwide programme of sports related community development initiatives’ while celebrating ‘the universal power of sport to bring people together as a force for good’ (the upshot ventures such as the Laureus World Sports Academy and the Laureus World Sports Awards). Present were two of the greatest modern Olympians, Edwin Moses and Daley Thompson; Dr Larry Bowers, chief science officer of the US Anti-Doping Agency; Professor David Cowan, director of the Drug Control Centre at King’s College London; Andy Parkinson, chief executive of UK Anti-Doping, and Jonathan Harris, medical services manager for the 2012 Olympics organising committee. Topics spanned detection and deterrence, the benefits of blood testing, the ethical imperative of prohibiting performance-enhancing drugs and the obligation of sport to exert a positive influence.
In its build-up to the symposium, The Times had given space to a defiant note of realism from Victor Conte, the infamous drug baron-turned- whistleblower jailed in 2004 for running the steroid-distributing Bay Area Laboratory Collective (BALCO) in San Francisco that counted among its world- beating clients the disgraced and similarly-incarcerated Marion Jones, the American sprinter who was stripped of her five Olympic gold medals for using a growth hormone and continually maintaining her innocence. Casting aspersions as to the true source of the medals won and records shattered by Jamaican sprinters such as Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, Conte, now running an apparently legitimate company called Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning, claimed that testing had merely reduced the number of dopers from 80% of athletes to 65%, and that claims of meaningful progress in what Parkinson called the ‘arms race’ were strictly ‘propaganda’. ‘It’s so easy to beat,’ explained Conte.
EPO [erythropoietin, a protein hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells] will clear within 24 hours if you do it by IV as opposed to subcutaneous injection. Your allotted hour passes, you take the drugs and by the next day you will test negative. Growth hormone is the same. I am convinced [cyclists] are still using PEDs during competition.[xxxii]
In Conte’s view, it was an utter waste spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on hunting down alleged offenders such as the baseball player Barry Bonds, the latter stages of whose illustrious career were shrouded by allegations that an almost grotesquely enlarged head and a surge in shoe size were tell-tale signs of growth hormone (perjury charges against Bonds had recently been dropped, though he did receive a suspended sentence for misleading the jury). ‘It’s the same with in-competition tests,’ continued Conte. ‘They say they did 5,000 tests at the  Olympic Games but how many did they catch? They should be putting the money into testing in October, November and December. That’s when the fish are biting, but that’s when they pull in their poles and take a nap.’[xxxiii]
As the symposium approached, Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti- Doping Agency, spoke admiringly, and somewhat enviously, of its UK counterpart, a model whose credibility stems from its independence. In doing so, he underlined the ‘inherent conflict in trying to promote and police your own sport’. No coach, he reasoned, ‘would ever send a syringe with a designer steroid to a sporting federation because what are they going to do? Chase down the bad guys or stick it in a drawer and shut down the whistleblower?’[xxxiv]
Meanwhile, in The Times, Ed Moses, soon to be appointed chairman of the US Anti-Doping Agency, deplored the prevailing inconsistency, calling for a ‘common code of sanctions’ while leaving no room for doubt about his overriding desire: ‘Can we stop doping? You can try to eradicate it, but people are going to take drugs, cheat on tests and drink-drive, as in life. All we can do is make it as hard as possible for the cheats to prosper.’[xxxv] Moses also addressed the so-called ‘double jeopardy’ punishment, whose latest high-profile victim, LaShawn Merritt, the men’s Olympic 400 metres champion, had served a 21-month drug suspension but remained barred from defending his title in London. The US Olympic Committee was then awaiting the imminent ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport after challenging the so-called ‘Osaka rule’, introduced by the IOC shortly before the 2008 Beijing Games, stipulating that any athlete incurring a doping ban of more than six months could not compete at the next Games. This, it argued, effectively constituted a second penalty for a single offence; the IOC was adamant it was an eligibility issue.
The CAS upheld Merritt’s appeal, concluding that the rule did indeed amount to double jeopardy in failing to comply with the 2009 code imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), rendering it ‘invalid and unenforceable’. According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, the decision would benefit around 50 athletes, around two- thirds of them American. A disappointed Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, claimed that the Osaka rule was supported by more than 90% of British athletes.[xxxvi] ‘We will not give up,’ avowed Thomas Bach, vice-president of the IOC. ‘I am disappointed because we wanted to strengthen the fight against doping. We wanted to protect clean athletes and enhance the image of the Olympic teams.’[xxxvii] The key words are ‘clean’ and ‘image’.
As a consequence of the CAS decision, the BOA’s life ban on the sprinter Dwain Chambers, who had been cleared to compete in other events after serving a doping ban, came under renewed pressure. Would Chambers now institute a legal challenge? In The Times, Rick Broadbent asked the ‘moral’ question: ‘Seven years after his doping ban expired, is it right that he will miss London 2012 while other, supposedly reformed drugs cheats, will be there?’ Then he laid out the hypocrisies and contradictions:
The BOA could be forgiven for thinking much of the sporting world does not give two hoots about doping. If they did, then governing bodies and anti-doping agencies would be handing out four-year bans, an unused sanction already in the [WADA] code. The BOA, then, is the lone voice of toughness, albeit a brand of toughness that has resulted in 29 successful appeals out of 32. It is a murky issue but what is abundantly clear is that two years, often reduced on appeal, is not an adequate ban for doping, while life leaves no ground for notions such as repentance and rehabilitation. And if the aim of anti-doping is to create a level playing field, then it seems ironic that the practice of it is not, but this is sport in the 21st century. Cheats can prosper as long as they don’t admit it and live abroad.[xxxviii]
The single argument In 2009, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) refused to fall in line with the decision by the International Cricket Council to sign the WADA anti-doping code. This defiance stemmed primarily from objections to the so-called “whereabouts” clause by leading players such as Sachin Tendulkar, who expressed fears about the impact on their personal security. Like the tennis player Rafa Nadal, who said the procedures in his sport made him “feel like a criminal”[xxxix], the cricketers bridled at the insistence that they be available to testers seven days a week - rather than five under the pre-2009 code. The BCCI stated that the clause contravened the Indian constitution. Fifa, too, called for the new regulations to be reassessed.
The following year, even though the “whereabouts” clause had been modified, the ICC decided to go it alone, devising its own code; this time, there was no Indian exceptionalism. In November 2011, WADA invited the more compliant sports to participate in a two-year review process that is intended to culminate in the adoption of a new code. It was difficult not to construe this, at least in part, as tacit acceptance that the 2009 version infringed civil liberties.
Yet to anyone advocating the legalisation of PEDS, there is an even more convincing counter-argument – a single argument so strong maybe we need no others. ‘The horrors of the East German doping system provided a powerful case for why drugs in sport should always remain prohibited,’ wrote Matthew Syed. ‘Surely no sane person would want to see a return to a situation where adolescents are doped up to their eyeballs by state-sanctioned coaches?’[xl] Syed was referring to the period between 1960 and reunification in 1989 when, in order to generate sporting glory and hence promote communism and national identity, the East German government ran a programme in which athletes were systematically doped by their coaches with Oral-Turinabol, an anabolic steroid favoured for accelerating quick muscle growth and distributed as ‘vitamins’ and ‘regeneration’ tablets.[xli] The upshot was 409 medals in the Summer Olympics alone, a staggering share for a nation of 17 million, but the side-effects were myriad: sterility and hormonal dysfunction; asthma, diabetes, chronic joint and back pain; heart disease and kidney failure. At 24, Brigit Böse, a shot-putter, was informed that she had the internal organs of an 11-year-old; her son was born with 41% of the standard lung capacity.[xlii] Gymnasts and skaters as young as ten or twelve were fed food spiced with steroids; some went on to bear children, but their offspring often suffered from chronic ailments directly related to those illegal medications. In all more than 800 athletes are estimated to have developed substantial health problems, fuelling a spate of court cases over the past decade, though missing records denied thousands more the chance to follow suit.[xliii] In all, the doping programme directly affected approximately 10,000 athletes.
Steroids, vitamins and regeneration tablets, though, might soon be as cutting-edge as laudanum. We are now entering the age of gene doping – something that takes the phrase ‘altered states’ to a whole new level. In short, gene doping involves changing the individual genes in the body to create...something better. Something only half a yard from bionics. In 2004, it was believed that gene doping could be in popular use by the time of the 2008 Olympics.[xliv] Though this ultimately proved an inaccurate prediction, at least as far as we know, it does suggest a genuine fear that it will arrive in sport sooner rather than later.
But why should we want to eradicate doping from sport? What is it about doping that is so wrong and how do we even judge what drugs fall under the banner of doping? Professor John Brewer of UK Anti-Doping says that for drugs to be banned they must fall in two out of three criteria: ‘Is it harmful to the human body? Does it have the potential to enhance performance? Does it violate the spirit of sport?’[xlv]
The first two criteria seem reasonable in as much as they can be judged impartially based on standard parameters. The third, however, seems fairly meaningless. The spirit of sport – defined by WADA as ‘ethics, fair play and honesty, health, excellence in performance, character and education, fun and joy, teamwork, dedication and commitment, respect for rules and laws, respect for self and other participants, courage, community and solidarity’[xlvi] – is a set of ideals rather than facts and so is unquantifiable.
Besides, William Saletan argues against the 'spirit of the sport' as a reason to ban doping anyway:
How, exactly, does the spirit of sport forbid gene transfer but not carbo-loading? The [WADA] code doesn't say. It defines the spirit of sport as “ethics”, “fair play”, “character” and a bunch of other words that clarify nothing. The definition includes “courage” and “dedication”. Doesn't it take more courage and dedication to alter your genes than to snarf a potato?[xlvii]
All those in the field of artistic endeavour - musicians, writers, poets, dancers, artists – have the choice to put themselves on the line by taking the road signposted ‘Further’. Our attitude to them is ambivalent at worst. If Keith Richards were an athlete, he’d be a ‘drug cheat’. After all, didn’t he use illegal drugs to get an edge? But he’s not an athlete, he’s a guitarist and songwriter who was apparently paid a £4.8 million advance for his autobiography, Life,[xlviii] which was serialised in The Times. Feted by the establishment, Richards is now, as Barnes says, a national treasure, a grand dame for our kids to laugh at in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Many of his contemporaries, people who light up the pages of his £4.8 million book, are dead. They all took the same risks, all tried to stay awake a little bit longer, all tried to make music that was a little bit further out. Richards made his choices – and we supported him in those choices by buying his records and going to his gigs.
Is the sports star who looks for an edge, who looks to go further, any different? And if they aren’t, why do we treat them differently? Since musicians, writers and dancers also compete with each other for our pockets and affections, albeit in a less directly confrontational manner, can we finally stop stigmatising sportspeople for using chemistry to enhance our enjoyment? Is it time now to say that we should treat sports stars in the same way we treat everyone else?
----------------------- NOTES [i] Steen, R., ‘The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made’, Mojo, August 1995, p54 [ii] Leake, J., ‘Doctors given drug perform better surgery’, Sunday Times, October 16 2011, p15 [iii] Barnes, S., ‘Forget the Good Guy brand – it’s all humbug’, The Times, May 27 2011, p101 [iv] Barnes, S., ‘Forget the Good Guy brand – it’s all humbug’, The Times, May 27 2011, p101 [v] Barnes, S., ‘Rest easy, all you Mr & Mrs Smiths out there’, The Times, July 11 2011 [vi] Barnes, S., ‘Athletes, the naughty vicars of the 21st century’, The Times, September 23, 2011, p93 [vii] Ritz, D., Divided Soul – The Life of Marvin Gaye (New York: Da Capo Press 1991), p. 114 [viii] Miles, B., Paul McCartney – Many Years From Now (London: Secker & Warburg 1997), p.184-5 [ix] Miles, p.190 [x] Flanagan, B., Written In My Soul – Conversations with Rock’s Great Songwriters (Chicago and New York: Contemporary Books, 1987), p. 291-92 [xi] Ibid, p. 123 [xii] Ibid, pp. 195-96 [xiii] Ibid, pp. 210-11 [xiv] Myers, P., A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren In The Studio (London: Jawbone Press, 2010), p74 [xv] Weight Loss (and Gain) Lessons from Sumo Wrestlers, Philippine Daily Inquirer Archive. Available online at http://www.tinajuanfitness.info/articles/011403.htm [xvi] Saletan, W. (2005) The Beam in your eye: If steroids are cheating why isn't LASIK [online]. New York: Slate. Available:
[Access date 23rd April 2011]
[xvii] Saletan, W. (2005) The Beam in your eye: If steroids are cheating why isn't LASIK [online]. New York: Slate. Available:
[Access date 23rd April 2011]
[xviii] Dodd, M. (2003) Tommy John Surgery: Pitcher's best friend [online]. McLean, VA: USA Today. Available [Access date 23rd April 2011]
[xix] Steen, R., Introduction to debate at the University of Brighton, 2006. Panellists included Michelle Verroken, former head of drug testing for UK Sport, sportswriter Stephen Downes, sportswriter, broadcaster and secretary of the Sports Journalists’ Association, and Lincoln Allison, Emeritus Reader in Politics and Doctor of Letters at the University of Warwick. [xx] Lipsyte, R., ‘Fiction as a microscope for preps’, ESPN.com, 20 November 2006 (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=lipsyte/061121) [xxi] Engel, M., ‘The deadly cost of not dealing with drugs in sport’, Financial Times, 26 August 2006 (www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d797123c-349f-11db-bf9a- 0000779e2340.html) [xxii] Ibid [xxiii]Savulescu, J, Foddy, B and Clayton, M, ‘Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol 38, No.6 (2004). Available online at http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/38/6/666.extract (Accessed 29 January 2012) [xxiv] Vangrunderbeek, H and Jan Tolleneer, J. (2011), ‘Student attitudes towards doping in sport: Shifting from repression to tolerance?’ from International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 46, No.3, p347 [xxv] Ibid [xxvi] Ibid [xxvii] Ibid, p350 [xxviii] Ibid, p350 [xxix] Ibid, p355 [xxx] Longman, J. and Connelly, M., ‘Americans suspect steroid use in sports is common, poll finds’, New York Times, 16 December 2003, quoted in Vangrunderbeek and Tolleneer (2011), p355 [xxxi] Briggs, B., ‘Swifter, higher, stronger, dirtier?’, Denver Post, 16 November 2003, quoted in Vangrunderbeek and Tolleneer (2011), p355, [xxxii] Broadbent, R., ‘Testers catching up in race to stop pursuit of fools’ gold’. The Times, 29 September 2011, p68 [xxxiii] Ibid [xxxiv] Ibid [xxxv] Moses, E., ‘Chambers came clean, but he’s the one with an extra sanction on him’, The Times, 29 September 2011, p69 [xxxvi] O’Connor, A., ‘Banned Britons assess options as dopers are given London lifeline’, The Times, 7 October 2011, p92 [xxxvii] Ibid, p93 [xxxviii] Broadbent, R., ‘No room for redemption in BOA stance on cheating’, The Times, 12 October 2011, p 76 [xxxix] BBC Sport, ‘Nadal attacks drug testing rules’, 12 February 2009 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/7885314.stm) [xl] Syed, M., Bounce: How Champions are Made. London: Fourth Estate 2010, p.224
[xli] Nothnagle, A., ‘East German doping scandal refuses to die’, August 19 2009 (http://open.salon.com/blog/lost_in_berlin/2009/08/19/east_german_doping_sca ndal_refuses_to_die) [xlii] Cleaver, H., ‘Marxism, medals…and misery’, The Observer, March 2 2003 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/02/athletics.sportfeatures) [xliii] Harding, L. (2005) Forgotten victims of East German doping take their battle to court. [online] London: The Guardian. Available:
[xliv] Baker, M. (2004), “Staying ahead of the Field”, Chemistry and Industry, 2nd Aug, pp.18-19.
[xlv] John Brewer ( Phone Interview). 25th February 2011. Contact details: Tel 07540 673197, Email [email protected]
[xlvi] World Anti-Doping Agency. (2009) "L1: Introduction to the spirit of sports values", Youth 1 [online] .Montreal: WADA. Available; [Access date 12th March 2011]
[xlvii] Saletan, W. (2006) Turin Sample: The nonsense of Olympic doping rules [Access Date 29th April] [xlviii] Bignell P and Stevenson C (2010) The Independent 12th December 2010 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/keith- richards-proves-that-theres-life-in-the-celebrity-memoir-yet-2158114.html