It is past time to admit that all successful professional individual sport athletes are drug cheats.
How many years of yesterday’s winners being uncovered as cheats before we realise they are just the future trajectory of today’s heroes? How many times do busted athletes have to say “everyone was doing it and it seemed to be sanctioned and everyone over at the official governing sports body knew” before we stop ignoring the implications?
The implication is this: Name your favourite sports star. Drug cheat.
I don’t see how anyone could draw any other conclusion. The pressure is too high. The rewards are too great. The availability of drugs is universal at every level of sport. Can you really suggest that a successful athlete at the highest levels has resisted the challenge, the nagging doubt to give themselves, brilliant athlete as they are, just a little edge? A little help? At its most benign, something to level the playing field with those other unscrupulous drug cheats?
I used to think that LZR suit swimming records should be marked separately to distinguish them between from non-LZR records. But really, why? A drug cheat will eventually break those records.
At best, all you can reasonably argue is that drug cheats in LZR suits had an unfair advantage over the non-suit drug cheats. LZR suit technology was patented and tied to a single sponsor, which is unfair – so it was banned. Performance enhancing drugs are available to everyone, which is the very definition of fairness.
So what do we do about it?
We can continue the fantasy, of course. I call it The-athletes-from-my-country-are-clean-unlike-the-athletes-from-my-country-ten-years-ago-who-were-caught-cheating-however-if-athletes-from-other-countries-beat-the-athletes-from-my-country-in-that-event-I-will-publicly-muse-that-those-athletes-are-on-drugs-but-if-others-muse-that-my-country’s-athletes-are-on-drugs-I-will-point-to-semi-scientific-musings-that-they-are-simply-genetically-gifted-to-a-previously-unknown-level-and-just-have-bigfeet-or-efficientlungs-or-supertwitchmuscles-but-no-drugs-no-drugs-no-drugs” path. It’s been working for us since the 1980′s. Hell, I remember people using similar sentences in 1980, so it’s probably been working for us for fifty years.
But if we don’t want to go with that, what could we do? Often I hear: take the money out of it. We could reduce the rewards. If the lure of money is causing people to cheat, restrict their ability to earn from sporting achievement. There are lots of problems with this method. For starters, even when there wasn’t lots of money people cheated for all kinds of reasons: To be the best. For pride of country. Because EVERYONE ELSE WAS.
And that is before we get into all the problems of limiting people’s abilities to make money, which I personally find unethical. So – that idea is out. What else?
We could separate events into performance enhanced and non-performance enhanced! Brilliant! Popular! We’ll all back the ‘clean’ Olympics and heap accolades and sponsorship money on ‘clean’ athletes and those performance enhancing athletes will all stop out of shame and come good.
Yeah, that’ll work. Oh, wait…
If there was a clean Olympics and a performance enhanced Olympics, no athlete would attend the clean one. What’s the point of being the fastest clean athlete when there is someone running four seconds faster than you over a hundred meters? The fastest person alive is NOT the clean one. If someone asked “Who’s the fastest person in the world?” and the answer is “Such and such hold the official Guinness book of records as fastest person” the follow up question would be “Yes, that’s very nice, but who is the ACTUAL FASTEST?” And everyone would know the answer. Athletes want to be that second answer – the real answer.
And lastly – and here’s the rub – the CLEAN ATHLETES WOULD ALL CHEAT.
Or we can do what is happening today unofficially sanctioned everywhere – have at it. Let the drugs be developed, marketed and used in the open.
It would offer better protection for young athletes. If the drugs are legal but restricted, it will be harder to give them to high school students, or have an approved list available for them (and here I lose many of you, because above all other things, we LOVE our pretence that teens don’t use).
If athletes were going to turn into horses from injections, we’d already have horses. If athletes are dying from heart failure, it’s better to be able to correct attribute it to a certain performance enhancing drug than just say “Shucks, I guess those supertwitchmuscles just were too much for his heart over time.”
Plus all the on-flow benefit to society of these drugs. Who knows where the technology could assist everyday people? If a performance enhancing drug caused heart problems, the counter-drug could be the thing that saves a million lives. If doctors – already forced to work for over 24 hours without a break – could take legal, tested and approved alertness drugs, all the better, right?
But, our hypocrisy is a warm, warm blanket. We can continue to pretend. It’s a very attractive path. Today’s athletes continue to inspire as role models we could aspire to, if we just got off the couch and put on some running shoes. We can turn a blind eye to teenagers using performance enhancing drugs (and if they are caught, they’re unrepresentative lone-wolf cheats, right?) We get a continuous news cycle of past heroes falling. It is win all round really – the inspiration AND the performance AND the drama.
So, name your favourite sports star. Just a clean, clean athlete, able to achieve feats better than any person ever, including all those performance-enhanced cheats of past, through diet, training and supertwitchmuscles. Or something. Just no drugs, no drugs, no drugs.
It is certainly a great story.
Over to you: Would you be OK with open slather performance enhancing? Who’s your favourite clean athlete?