Doping: The Fallacy Behind “A Policy Allowing Open and Regulated” PED Use in Cycling as a Solution

It is with some dismay that I discovered a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald (an Australian publication) titled Why punishing cyclists over drugs is dopey by Craig Fry.

As I read through the piece, what bothered me most is that (without deeper, more global thought) readers will likely come away believing the article’s main premise.

Using the USADA position (case) against Lance Armstrong as backdrop, the author expands on the idea that “at the heart of this [Armstrong’s] story is a more important question about what is good policy on drugs and performance enhancement in sport.”

Albeit, I do believe that question from the piece to be important, I must step away (far away) from the solution given later in the article; that adopting “a policy allowing open and regulated performance enhancing drug use and blood doping in elite cycling” (with the inference to sports as a whole) would be a good thing, a positive thing.

The author’s belief stems from his contention that doing so:

  •  “would allow officials and authorised professionals to scientifically monitor enhancement effects,
  •  “significantly minimise health risks to the athletes,
  •  “would…facilitate the education of athletes and officials,”

and that athletes would then be able to make “informed choices.”

The problem with this belief is that it completely dismisses the reason why athletes are doping in the first place—the “winning at all costs” attitude that precedes such a choice. And it is for this reason, along with others stemming from the aforementioned attitude, that I cannot support whatsoever the author’s premise.

Moving in the direction Mr. Fry suggests does nothing to remove the creation of an environment where one must use (and accept all consequences of that use) if they have any desire to compete successfully at the upper levels of their sport. In effect, it supports and enhances that type of environment. We, as a sports society, simply cannot allow this to happen.

In addition, it will not make anything safer, as the “need” for some to find an “edge,” no matter what the risks, will still exist. There have always been those who demonstrate poor character and accept less out of themselves by cheating; this is nothing new. Rules, to them, are simply a line indicating the place to be crossed in order for them to seek an advantage. This would continue to hold true even if PED’s were allowed and regulated. These same individuals will simply cross whatever line those regulations dictate. As long as the “cheater” sees it as giving them an advantage, they will cross that line.

If we want to truly have an impact, make a difference, in the issue of PED use in sports (along with all the other issues a winning at all costs attitude brings to the table), we will need to attack it at its source. And our target—the thought processes that support, encourage, and emphasize, “winning” over the process and preparation to win—winning above all else. It may seem like semantics to some, but from my perspective, it’s HUGE.

We find a way to effectively do this (and include a very strong emphasis on character and intengrity within that process), combined with the consequences that organizations, governing bodies, and agencies like USADA, WADA, etc., implement for those who do not get “the message,” and watch what happens.

We are who we are based on the choices we make and process we are grounded in; not by the championships won, medals we collect, or money we make; those honors, awards, and financial rewards are simply outcomes of the aforementioned pieces, nothing more.

Kirk Mango

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