Recently Dr Jason Mazanov opined that doping should be legalised because the current ‘war on drugs in sport’ is failing.
He used the current shenanigans embroiling ASADA, the AFL, Essendon and the Cronulla Sharks footy clubs as examples of how the anti-doping fight is more about image protection than catching cheats.
He poses an alternative proposition that controlled doping would be far better for all levels of sport (and business).
Although it is certainly worth considering such ‘left-of-field’ thinking the reality is that legalised doping also poses enormous problems and will in no way ‘level the playing field’.
For those that view sport as nothing more than entertainment like the gladiatorial days when competitors fought to the death with weapons in a pro-doping world it would be the same, only with drugs.
But what if the doping was done under ‘medical supervision’ it would be okay, right?
Wrong! How many East German athletes, how many professional cyclists, professional wrestlers, footballers etc have died allegedly doping under medical supervision?
While the current anti-doping system is not perfect in any way a pro-doping environment would open up a whole new set of problems.
Some of the issues that would keep me awake at night if it ever became a reality would be:
Who decides that it is legal to dope in the first place; the IOC, WADA, sporting federations, governments, health authorities etc?
Would all athletes have same access to same drugs or would it be ‘user pays’?
Would athletes have access to both generic and brand name drugs because there are sure to be different effects between them (drugs work differently in different people so what may not even ‘touch the sides’ in one may kill another)?
Would everyone have to be taking the same drug with the same dose and at the same time?
Who would supervise, regulate and oversee this?
Would the WADA then be in the business of approving rather than banning drugs?
What drugs would be allowed to be on the ‘abused’ list?
What would constitute a banned or ‘non-performance’ enhancing drug?
Would there be an age limit imposed on drug use like alcohol?
The ‘hippocratic oath’ taken by doctors would be turned on its head. Instead of treating sick people to get better we would have doctors ‘treating’ healthy people with the possibility of making them sick or even dying.
Also if a doctor is part of the sporting enterprise and receives a ‘cut’ from winnings what would be the temptation to pump the athlete with as many drugs as it takes to ‘win’ rather than it takes to get the optimal performance from them.
We could end up with discarded athletes along with the already discarded or neglected under-performing greyhounds and racehorses and who knows possibly even humans already.
For the drug companies there would be no need to change the job descriptions of their chemists though because they are already in the business of making drugs used for doping anyway (albeit not their intention, or is it?).
Viagra and Ritalin are enhancement drugs! It would be a marketing free-for-all with fraudsters and con-artists in backyard jobs also milking the ‘performance’ market for all it was worth.
Soon the protagonists will be saying why bother with doctors at all, why can’t an athlete just go down to the local ‘harmacist’ and get performance enhancers ‘over the counter’.
Have we become so bored with our sporting lot that a ‘normal’ performance is an unacceptable performance?
Why does our ‘fast-forward’ society seemingly want ‘fast-forward athletes’ or is this just the media hype being fed to the gullible masses in the name of entertainment and ratings and ultimately bags of money for them?
But before any sensible argument can be mounted for doping to be legalised, genetic therapies already being used will pose a reality of doping without drugs.
If genetic therapies offer opportunities to enhance all humans resulting in longer, more productive and satisfying lives will elite athletes be excluded from this new gene pool (not that everyone who is genetically enhanced could be an elite athlete anyway).
Who is going to make that call? The problem with genetic therapies ‘for all’ is that even with a new genetically enhanced level playing field, history tells us that drugs will still be abused because everyone wants to be a winner.
One thing that seems to escape protagonists for doping is this; do we really want to shove drugs down our kids throats today so that tomorrow they too can become a Barry Bonds or a Ben Johnson?
Are home run records and 100m records to be cherished above all else? Why should we aspire to the lowest common denominator?
Those who support doping are either in complete denial or beyond frustration with the current anti-doping system. The alternative will only make things worse.
Perhaps now some people can appreciate the plight of the parents/partners of players from the Essendon and Cronulla footy clubs. Would you want your children to be put on drugs when they are otherwise healthy?
Robin Parisotto is an Australian anti-doping researcher and expert, the principal researcher of EPO in 2000, and author of ‘Blood Sports’.