Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: What's so bad about drugs in sport?

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New Zealand shotputter Valerie Adams was elevated from silver to gold after Nadzeya Ostapchuk failed a drug test.
Photo / File
New Zealand shotputter Valerie Adams was elevated from silver to gold after Nadzeya Ostapchuk failed a drug test. Photo / File

Do you ever get the feeling that our attitude towards sport and athletes is trapped in some sort of virtual time-warp? At least that was my initial response to Graydon Carter's thought-provoking editorial in the latest issue of Vanity Fair which compared the double standards we apply to sports as opposed to other aspects of human endeavour.

"When an actor gives a cocaine-fuel[l]ed, Oscar-winning performance, do we take his award away? Do we reclaim a singer's Grammy, or put an asterisk after it in the record books, when we discover that he was ramped up on illegal substances? Why all the outrage over athletes?" he asked.

"Let's face it, who among us wouldn't take a pill or potion that would make us better at our job? Goodness knows, we abuse substances for just about everything in our personal lives; why not in our professional lives as well?"

They're all good questions and ones that - in light of Ostapchuk's emergence as our public enemy number one - New Zealanders may not be well placed to consider objectively. But if we can set aside the fact that a shot-putting drug-cheat initially claimed Valerie Adams' rightful Olympic gold medal, Carter's provocative words just might have substance.

There's surely something a little bit 1950s about our insistence that athletes and their urine samples are pure as the driven snow. Just like the advice to housewives about making themselves presentable when their husbands return home after a hard day at the office, our obsession with keeping performance-enhancing drugs out of sport verges on being quaint and old-fashioned.

In its refusal to acknowledge the reality that drugs, in their various forms, are almost inescapable these days, it even has shades of those flawed arguments from the 1980s about sport and politics not mixing. How long can we maintain this affectation that sportspeople must be squeaky clean on the drug front?

Currently the anti-doping agencies may do a great job of keeping performance-enhancing drugs out of our sporting arenas - and making examples of those, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, who fall afoul of their worthy aims - but surely the role of policing must be becoming increasingly complicated.

Presumably the drugs are getting both more effective and more difficult, if not impossible, to detect. What happens when they evolve to a point where they surpass our ability to screen for them - and how do we know that hasn't actually occurred?
The tipping point will surely come when performance-enhancing drugs, far from harming an athlete's body, shortening their career or delivering unwanted side-effects, are actually health enhancing too. When these drugs are actively good for you, even the hitherto 'clean' athletes are likely to demand their share.

When the appeal of drug-assisted sporting performances stretches beyond the unscrupulous, desperate athletes and filters down to the mainstream contingent the rules will have to change. My prediction is that, like it or not, we'll eventually have to relinquish this entrenched belief that sport is somehow divorced from scientific advances and the realities of modern life.

What's your opinion of drugs in sport? Is the ban justified or do we need to change our beliefs? Do you think it's inevitable that drugs will eventually be accepted in athletes?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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