I don’t know how many people are aware of this; the British Olympic Association (BOA) has a rule stating that anyone convicted of taking performance enhancing drugs is not eligible for Olympic selection. A few weeks ago this rule was challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with media interest now growing. It was decided that this policy was not in line with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations, which the BOA is also singed up to.
As you might expect this raises all sorts of issues, potentially opening up a can of worms ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. Here’s my thoughts:-
Personally, I don’t feel there is any room for cheating in sport. It should simply be about who is the fittest, strongest, most skillful athlete or team. Clearly cheating does happen in sport and takes many different forms, whether it’s using drugs, taking a dive in a football match or deliberately breaking a rule. Sometimes it is even seen as acceptable to break a rule knowing you are likely to be penalised where the penalty is judged to be the lesser of two evils. When it comes to drugs in sport however, I don’t think many people would find this acceptable in any circumstances except for in the treatment of a genuine medical condition.
The BOA are probably the only Olympic Association to take such a stong stance and I think they should be applauded for this. After all there should be some sort of lasting sanction to act as a serious deterrent to taking drugs, right? I mean some of these athletes have come up with some quite feeble excuses for missing or failing drug tests, even when caught red handed! They are often given just a short ban and some even profit from being caught by selling their story, which just seems wrong!!
It’s also worth noting that some physical gains made using dodgy practises may well be retained on a long-term basis. So, an athlete could potentially still compete at an artificially high even when they are ‘clean’. How can that be fair?
The argument against the BOA rule is that once an athlete has served their suspension they should be free to return to full competition. They may also have been fined or lost their place on a team so have been financially penalised too. Sometimes athletes have even been forced into early retirement or spiralled into depression or alcoholism after being caught so have paid a high price in the end. Whilst you wouldn’t wish the last two outcomes on anyone, generally I don’t have much sympathy!
It’s not always straightforward though…Take the example of skier Alain Baxterwho used a Vicks nasal spray and was stripped of the bronze he won at the 1998 Winter Olympics. In his case he used this product routinely in Britain without problem, but the American version of the inhaler contained a banned substance. He probably gained nothing from this but was banned anyway because ultimately you as an athlete are responsible for everything you put into your body. Harsh? Yes, probably.
Cyclist David Miller was a young talented athlete. He apparently felt huge pressure to win for his team to help keep the sponsors happy and thus secure the teams future. From what I have read he was pressurised into doping to safeguard others people’s jobs. He won two world time trial titles using EPO (Erythropoietin) to artificially boost his oxygen carrying red blood cells, but took no pleasure from either victory knowing how he had achived them. Clearly he was and still is an athlete of huge ability who could have won such events without doping. Instead he lost the world titles, hundreds of thousands of pounds and his life spiralled out of control. Instead of helping him avoid such problems his team actively encouraged him to dope! He has made a successful comeback from this low point and is now a very vocal anti-doping campaigner. His new autobiography should be interesting…
So, as a result of the ruling, we could see athletes such as Miller and Dwaine Chambers (Athletics) at the London Games. Good thing or bad thing? I still think the answer should that this would be a bad thing but it’s not completely clear cut perhaps. The BOA is appealing the decision by CAS so we will see what happens.