Dr Paul Macdermid: Cheating athletes product of cash-driven society

Darya Klishina of Russia competes in the Women's Long Jump final. Photo / Getty Images
Darya Klishina of Russia competes in the Women's Long Jump final. Photo / Getty Images

While there has been a backlash around the world at the International Olympic Committee's decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia for the Rio Games, would such a ban really have been fair? It certainly didn't happen in the 1970s and 1980s to the East Germans, or to Chinese swimmers in the 1990s.

There was a time when the Olympics motivated a generation of television viewers to support their fellow countrywomen or men. There were no questions regarding the moral integrity of those observed and there were no demands from society on how athletes could achieve such amazing feats.

Nowadays, increased external pressures make it difficult for athletes to focus on the process of becoming better athletes and people, but rather the outcome is viewed in terms of sports funding. As such, it is not surprising that deviant personality changes amongst sports people are unlikely to be anything other than a mirror of wider society - everyone scrambling over one another to get what they want.

But some people believe athletes should be subject to higher standards than their fellow human beings. And so it was that late into the 1920s, doping (defined as the process of adding an impurity to alter performance) without any means of regulation became contrary to the spirit of sport.

Leap forward a few decades and we now have an international agency and its subsidiaries charged with the task of policing sports doping. Wada, the World Anti-Doping Agency, has three basic criteria for banning doping - the health of participants, the enhancement of sporting performance, and whether it is contrary to the spirit of sport.

While all have their merits, there are many compelling counter-arguments. Firstly, if you were truly concerned for the health of individuals taking part in sport would it not be wise to cap the amount of hours and type of training performed? Just look at the 471,980 sporting incident injuries lodged with ACC during 2014/15.

Secondly, sports performance enhancement is fundamental to the High Performance Sport New Zealand strategy and it is likely that every university in New Zealand and around the world has groups investigating the next new performance-enhancing substance or strategy.

At this point it would be wise to note that the English law states: "Everything which is not forbidden is allowed." Framed within the current spirit of sport it could read: "If it is not on the list and it enhances performance, then take it."

There are also get-out clauses in the form of therapeutic use exemption certificates (TUEs). If you can get a doctor to say you have a medical condition then you are free to take illegal, performance-enhancing substances. Is that in the spirit of sport?

Before the sports media start throwing stones from glass houses, why don't they, as a start, report any TUEs athletes have used in the past 12 months? This would at least make it possible to gauge whether sporting prowess is a result of untainted hard work or impure legal hard work.

In the pursuit of global sporting dominance there are many doping (legal and illegal) and corruption allegations facing many nations competing at the 2016 Olympic Games, but no calls to ban entire nations other than Russia.

So before we take to the streets for a lynching, let's ask the general population of New Zealand whether they thought the whole Kiwi team should be banned if, for example, it was shown that the rowing team had an illegal performance enhancement programme in place.

Surely, in the spirit of sport, only those who tested positive should be banned?

• The Herald can report 50 New Zealand athletes currently have therapeutic use exemption certificates. Drug Free Sport NZ is aware of one current Olympian with a TUE. Certificates were sought by 86 athletes in the year to the end of June, an increase of 19 per cent on the previous year. In 26 cases the exemption was for corticosteroids, commonly used for short-term treatment of allergies and post-operative inflammation. Stimulants was the second most common drug, with exemptions granted to 19 athletes.

Dr Paul Macdermid is a lecturer in sport coaching in Massey University's School of Sport and Exercise.

- NZ Herald

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