Bruce Bisset: Doping a purely moral argument

By Bruce Bisset


Seems to me that among all the battles mankind is fighting, the war on drugs is arguably the most arbitrary and the most futile, especially when it comes to high-performance sport.

Drugs and corruption are natural bedfellows; make something illegal - even if it's essentially harmless - and everyone who thinks they can get away with it will want a part of the action.

On the other hand, make something that is intrinsically bad for you legal, and the industries that grow up to push that substance will fight tooth and nail to continue peddling it, even when all evidence suggests potentially fatal addiction is the norm.

Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are the big three in the latter category, though others like aspirin or the insidious mass-medication of fluoride run close.

Count in everything else in our modern intake, from agrichemicals to vaccines to refined salts and sugars, and it's clear humanity has become chemically dependent on a massive and habitual scale.

Which, when you think about it, makes the debates around both "recreational" and performance-enhancing substances rather hypocritical.

If we choose to blindly accept such a plethora of "drugs" in our daily lives, how can our society then justly draw lines between what is bad and what, allegedly, isn't? Especially when most such divisions are tenuously based on opinion and perception driving acceptance or intolerance.

Let's face it, if we based those decisions purely on likelihood of harm, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine would all be banned.

So abhorrence at the use of drugs in sport is purely a moral argument, I suggest - born of the fact sport is supposedly "the great leveller" and anything that tilts the play in a biased way is regarded as repugnant.

From a high horse, I'd agree. Sport should be about expressing the virtues and capabilities of creative physical forms, ideally in a fair and good-natured manner. But it isn't, is it?

Not at the top level, and indeed probably not much after the age (somewhere around 7) when children realise that the expectation is not simply to enjoy the game, but to win it. It's a relatively small step before that can become "at all costs".

Certainly professional sport is now a no-holds-barred environment. And are high tackles, soccer dives, shirt-pulling, trips, surreptitious nudges, timely fake injuries or, for that matter, open fisticuffs really any less unfair than someone shooting up an EPO before playing?

And what about the other form of corruption identified with top-level sport: gambling. Sportspeople are no less immune to golden carrots than anyone else, as the astounding number of fixed (or at least tainted) matches coming to light proves.

Moreover, a Lance Armstrong-type team environment, where everyone is expected (arguably forced) to cheat, does not exist courtesy of the athletes alone. They may be the only ones (save perhaps the odd coach or doctor) to get the blame but, in reality, the money-men behind the scenes must at best turn a blind eye, if not knowingly encouraging and underwriting it.

And while sponsors might be in the dark, they get their money's worth regardless; for SCA Promotions to sue Armstrong now after dining out on his success for so long is crocodile tears with a cut-throat edge.

The developing drugs scandal in Australasian sport is confirmation no country or code is immune. Equally, that governing bodies and doping labs are always playing catch-up so cannot prevent bogus results; only those using last year's methods get caught.

But what to do about it?

Here's a thought: why not have separate events? One "clean" Olympics and another for the "enhanced".

That way, everyone gets to play on a more level field, and maybe the odium around those who opt for substance over sincerity can be put in context.

Those competitors mad enough to twist themselves into drug-induced shapes would be free to find out what the (enhanced) human form really could achieve, without fear of disqualification.

You can bet there'd be plenty of money behind that.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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