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Friday, August 04, 2006

Swimming Upriver

Mike Agostini, a one-time world class sprinter from Trinidad, wrote an editorial about doping for the Sydney Morning Herald:
BEFORE drugs, money was the major focus of corruption in sport. To be caught even asking for money was once as bad as being caught using performance-enhancing drugs is today. But making money is now accepted - and expected - in elite sport.

The simplest solution to the drug problem may well be to do what was done with money and simply ignore it. Maybe it'll disappear.
Disband the Spanish Inquisition-like World Anti-Doping Agency, which will catch only some of the drug users. Considering the expense of not only testing but trying to find ways to test for new drugs, it can never be cost-effective because the money available to drug makers and marketers will always be greater. Like money, drugs soon will not be an issue as they are now, in the media particularly.
I, as well as most track fans around the world, could not disagree more. First off, comparing WADA to the Spanish Inquisition is more than a bit over the top. Aside from the brutal tactics and self-serving goals of the Inquisition, at least somebody expects WADA sometimes.

But he's flat-out wrong about money and sports. Many sports were professional right from the start, such as baseball, horse racing, and soccer. Within amateur sports, different nations had slightly different rules about amateurism, and there never was a time when sport and money were separate (even if athletes and money were).

Agostini also misrepresents the incidents which led to Was Santee's amateur status being revoked; he either deliberately obscures the point or shows his ignorance of the facts. By the time WWI had passed, the amateur code was used primarily not as a measure to keep sport pure but as a weapon to keep athletes in line and obeying the wishes of officials. The whole point of the anti-doping system reverses this relationship; the long-term needs of athletes (health and honesty) are placed above the short-term needs of unscrupulous officials, coaches and meet promoters (monetary gain from a freakshow or increased power from a successful team). The fact that some athletes lose sight of these long-term goals are why we have the rules which are enforced so vigorously.

Then, of course, there are the needs of the fans. In some countries, doping for sport is covered under laws prohibiting fraud. And to us, that's exactly what it is. We like international-level sport for the simple reason that it amazes us to see humans doing amazing things. When we find they aren't quite human we have been defrauded of a genuine experience.

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