Doping: Russian Cheats or a Failed System?

A stunning report from a WADA Commission, led by former head of WADA Dick Pound has made a series of allegations against Russian athletes and authorities, including that 1400 samples were deliberately destroyed ahead of a visit by WADA. It recommends the suspension of all Russian athletes over the period including the Rio Olympics, and lifetime bans for five individual athletes and five coaches. It says the London Olympics was “sabotaged”, not only by the Russian authorities, but also by the inaction of the IAAF.

While this report focuses on Russia, early independent analyses of leaked blood profiles estimated at least 1/3 of medals involve doping or raised suspicions of doping. So the problem extends way beyond Russia. Arson Wenger, Arsenal Football Club’s manager, recently claimed doping was widespread in football, a sport which has so far had few scandals.

Back in 2012, there was more confidence in the ability to enforce the rules: speaking ahead of the Olympics, the UK Minister for Sport and the Olympics Hugh Robertson  said:

“We cannot absolutely guarantee that these will be a drug-free games,” he said.

“But we can guarantee that we have got the very best system possible to try and catch anybody who even thinks of cheating.””

Mr Robertson may have been correct that it was the best system possible. But today’s report, and earlier analyses of leaked blood data show that doping is likely to have nevertheless been widespread, amongst both Russian athletes and those of other nations.

I have argued that in the light of the proven inability to enforce a zero tolerance approach to sport, we should instead take a pragmatic approach. As a very brief and incomplete overview, I argue that we should allow doping within safe, measurable physiological parameters. For example, if an athlete’s haematocrit is under say 50%, we should not worry about whether she reached that level by altitude training, hypoxic tent use, genetic good luck, or EPO. We should focus resources on drugs which are unreasonably risky for athletes, or which are against the spirit of the individual sport (by which I mean they substantially remove the human component of a given sport). The doping we allow should be supervised by a medical professional, within prescribed safe ranges, and tested by independent accredited and monitored laboratories. You can read in more detail here or throughout this blog in the Sport category.

This position remains controversial. But its opponents imagine an Eldorado where sport is mainly clean, and that the few athletes who do dope are likely to get their comeuppance. They argue that allowing doping would be unfair to clean athletes who would not be able to compete. They argue that it would push young athletes into doping. But we now know that doping is not a rare aberration. It was not rare in the 90s for cycling, and it is not rare, 20 years later for athletics.

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Rugby and the Love of the Underdog

The Rugby World Cup is now well underway in England and Wales, and rugby fans have possibly already seen one of its most surprising results and entertaining games. On the second day of the tournament, Japan defied the odds to earn a narrow 34-32 victory over South Africa. The result stunned the rugby world – prior to the result, South Africa had been hailed as possible tournament winners, having been already been crowned world cup champions in 1995 and 2007, whilst few outside the Japanese camp gave them a serious chance of success, with bookmakers classing them as 80-1 underdogs. It truly was a victory of Goliath-slaying proportions.

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Guest Post: Performance enhancers and smart drugs in e-sports

Written by Toni Gibea

Research Center in Applied Ethics, University of Bucharest

My aim is to show that the decision made by ESL (Electronic Sports League) to ban Adderall in e-sport competitions is not the outcome of a well-reasoned ethical debate. There are some important ethical arguments that could be raised against the ESL decision to ban Adderall, arguments that should be of great interest if we are concerned about the moral features of this sport and its future development.

In the first part of this post I will explain why and when doping became a primary concern for e-sports and I will also sum up some of the officials’ reactions. After that I’ll present the main arguments that could be raised against the idea that the use of Adderall is an obviously impermissible moral practice. My conclusion is that we should treat this subject matter with more care so that in the future decisions in this area will have a stronger moral grounding. Continue reading

Doping in Hollywood

For his role in the new movie Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhaal gained 45 lbs (20 kgs) of muscle in six months. Many praised Gyllenhall for his dedication in undergoing this remarkable physical transformation. Few have questioned whether this achievement was aided by the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Some in the bodybuilding community claim that such massive weight gain would be nearly impossible without the use of steroids. For experienced bodybuilders, it is considered an accomplishment to gain 7-10 pounds of muscle in a year “naturally”. Training in combination with taking human growth hormone (HGH) can add 4.6 pounds of lean muscle mass, in three weeks.

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Doping: Alive and Well in the Tour But You Won’t Hear About It

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my argument for legalising doping in sport, aiming to focus resources on harm reduction rather than zero tolerance. Key safeguards in this approach are (1) doping carried out under the supervision of a doctor, and (2 ) checks on athletes to ensure they maintain normal physiological ranges of relevant parameters.

Many commentators consider this approach unrealistic. But as the world’s elite riders commence the Tour de France 2015, it appears that they will be riding under something very close to that vision.

In March this year, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission published a report into current doping practices. It concludes that doping is still prevalent, with estimates from those in the sport ranging from 20 – 90% of athletes participating in doping.

However, two mechanisms within anti – doping policy, the Athlete Biological Passport, and the Therapeutic Use Exemption, appear to be functioning effectively as regulators on doping behaviour: enhancing its safety and limiting its impact, without preventing its use outright.

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Why do we like our artist on drugs, but not our sportspeople?

inspiration-is-for-amateursThe internet and print media are happy to herald that movie director Lars Von Trier can’t work without alcohol. He reports that he tried to be sober and went to AA meetings for half a year, but has now started drinking again in order to be able to work. This is a victory for those who believe that artists are more creative on drugs. As Von Trier himself ranted late last year, before going in rehab, he thinks that going clean will probably mean the end of his career. He probably won’t be able to make movies at all, and what he will produce, will be ‘shitty’. ‘There is no creative expression of artistic value that has ever been produced by ex-drunkards and ex-drug-addicts. Who the hell would bother with a Rolling Stones without booze or with a Jimi Hendrix without heroin?’ He states that he wrote the screenplay for Dogville during a 12-day drug binge, but working on the screenplay for Nymphomaniac, while sober, took him 18 months. Continue reading

‘Competitive Altruism’ – Why attractive women are the most successful fundraisers

By Nadira Faber

Why do humans help others even when it is costly and nothing is to be expected in return? This question has not only developed into a classic in different empirical disciplines, but is also of high interest for fundraisers like charities who would like to know how to increase donations.

A study recently publish in Current Biology gives interesting real-life evidence for why people help that might sound like a paradox at first: ‘competitive altruism’.

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Sport hatred redux: Hating arch-rivals

I am a Tottenham fan. (I accept your condolences.) One duty of a Tottenham fan is to hate Arsenal. And I am nothing if not a dutiful lad. Is such hatred justified? Continue reading

Why don’t we just replace professional sports with paté baking already?

As the new season started, there was in the United States debates around the health of participants, responsibilities in and the ethics of American football. In September this year, a 16-year-old player died after a collision with another player. Earlier in the same month, it was reported that brain trauma affects one in three retired players of the National Football League. In a column in the New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (the magazine’s “Ethicist”) poses the question: “Is It Wrong to Watch Football?” Is it? I think the very institution is the problem. Continue reading

Not cricket? Law, convention, ethics, and that run-out

Sporting contests are philosophically interesting, as well as enjoyable, because sports and games are full of rules and conventions, which inevitably raise issues of interpretation and give rise to passion about ethics and the spirit of the game. The recent run-out of English batsman, Jos Buttler by the Sri Lankan bowler, Sachithra Senanayake in the deciding one-day international match is a case in point. Buttler was run out at the non-striker’s end by the bowler almost in his delivery stride after Buttler had backed up too far The anger, complaint and tutt-tutting in the English media, amounted to a sort of slightly stifled outrage (if that is a possible condition). But there is general agreement that Senanayake did nothing against the laws (rules) of the game, so for those shocked by the run out, there is recourse to such things as violating the spirit of cricket, ungentlemanly behaviour, and the ethics of the matter. (For an interesting discussion of this and other examples of legal but improper behaviour in cricket, such as not “walking” when you know you are “out”, see Samir Chopra and David Coady, “Not Cricket” in Sport in Society: Culture, Commerce, Media, Politics, 2007.)

To be clear on the law, Law 42.11 from the International Cricket Council’s playing regulations for international cricket states that “the bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker”.

This could hardly be clearer, so the current debate implicitly or explicitly acknowledges that there is a difference between law and morality, or, less grandly perhaps, the rules and the ethos of an activity. So, it is worth looking more closely at what happened. According to newspaper reports, Buttler had already twice been warned by the bowler when out of his crease as the bowler was about to enter his delivery stride. In spite of this he was well down the pitch when Senanayake broke the bails and appealed. The umpire asked the Sri Lankan captain, Angelo Matthews whether he wanted to withdraw the appeal and he declined to do so. The batsman trudged unhappily from the field, and after the match Alastair Cook, the England captain, when shaking hands with the victorious captain, apparently delivered angry words about the incident.

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