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Doping In Sport Back Under The Spotlight As Olympic Games Approach

The most surprising thing about the ongoing Russian drug scandal is that people seem surprised.

Sport moves from one drugs exposé to the next, with each being labelled the most shocking yet. The federations involved make the right noises about getting their houses in order before WADA pleads for more money in order to catch the endless stream of cheats.

Media commentators write fatuous articles about how this may well be the death of the sport involved. It never is. They are swiftly forgotten and a couple of years later a new story comes along and the cycle starts all over again. Like the failed US ‘War on Drugs’, it seems people are reluctant to question whether prohibiting substances is actually working, when it clearly isn’t.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 23: A general view of the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games displaying the Olympic Rings in Barra da Tijuca. The Village will host up to 17,200 people amongst athletes and team officials during the Games and up to 6,000 during the Paralympic Games on July 22, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Olympic history is littered with cheats and dopers yet the movement is bigger and more commercially successful than ever. It grew despite the steroid-fuelled 70s and 80s, the BALCO scandal and the positive re-tests from Beijing and London.

We’ve been watching drugged athletes for years and it hasn’t seemed to stop our enjoyment. Thousands lined the streets to watch the Tour de France, and there is no better example of how sport can survive any drug scandal you care to throw at it and continue to prosper.

Many claim that Lance Armstrong’s doping was the most sophisticated ever seen in sport. The reality is that state plan 14.25, the East German state-sponsored system, was far more systematic and damaging to those involved. Armstrong can even justifiably claim that by the standards of his era, he didn’t actually do much wrong.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson wins the 100 metres final at the Seoul Olympics, 24th September 1988. However he was later disqualified when traces of anabolic steroid were found in his urine. American athlete Carl Lewis, who was subsequently awarded the gold medal, is also pictured. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

The Olympic men’s 100 metres final in Seoul in 1988 was one of the greatest sporting events ever seen. We now know that six of the eight athletes in that race have been caught up in doping stories of one kind or another since, yet the image of Ben Johnson – arm raised in salute, eyes and muscles bulging – remains one of sport’s most iconic. It’s stories like this – Good v Evil, East v West – that make the Olympics interesting in the first place. A whiff of controversy and guaranteed back page headlines never seriously harmed any sport.

Following a properly structured training and nutrition plan is performance enhancing. Caffeine and creatine are unequivocally performance enhancing, yet both are fully legal. Hypoxic tents, which simulate the effects of altitude and increase red blood cell count, are a tried and trusted training aid, while injecting synthetic EPO, which amounts to the same thing, is not.

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Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wolfahrt, the former Bayern Munich club doctor, includes Usain Bolt on his client list, and uses Actovegin and Hyalart among other more unusual treatments. One is a filtered calf’s blood elixir that enhances aerobic oxidation and has similar effects to meldonium. The other is an extract made from cockerel crest. Neither is on the banned list.

The system is riddled with inconsistencies and allowing athletes to take what they want, under the supervision of doctors in order to protect their health, may well be the only way to truly ‘level the playing field’. At the very least, it’s time to seriously ask the question…

Andrew Fields, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.