Thursday, 1 November 2012

Sometimes its not just about RC

Let me state from the start - I do NOT condone deliberate drug cheating in sport. Those people deserve to be caught and punished, but with the news that Anthony West has failed a doping test (most likely because of using a decongestant while trying to ride with a cold), I think its time the anti-doping/drugs hysteria that's gripping the world's sports has to end! 

The World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances is over 8 pages long with drugs listed paragraph style rather than in point lists. I started to count them but quickly gave up when I got to over 40 in the first paragraph of steroids alone, NOT including their alternate names. IN the stimulants section I counted over 60 items, again not including their alternate names, which in some cases can have 15 or more alternate names. To make it even MORE difficult each section is finished with a line that allows unknown substances to be included simply because of having similar effects.

We hold our sports stars in such high esteem that its hard to imagine, let alone accept, some think that cheating is the only way forward, but at the same time there are many who simply work hard and give their all for their sport. At the same time, with very few exceptions, they are not chemists and I personally think it is unrealistic to expect them to walk around with a list of every banned substance every time they go to the pharmacy or shopping. In reality the banned substance list numbers into the hundreds when you include all the alternate names that chemicals can be marketed under. When you consider that the vast majority of us can't even be bothered to check the additives in our foods why do we expect our sports people to make exhaustive checks of every chemical that might be in a nasal spray, something we would buy from the chemist without even a moments hesitation?

In the case of Ant West, the chemical he failed the test on is very common in nasal decongestants and some dietary supplements and it's stimulant properties are considered weak and in some clinical tests, non-existent. It is NOT required to be listed in the ingredients of some products and even if it IS listed can be listed under 1 of 18 DIFFERENT names! Some of which sound decidedly herbal in nature.

One point I want to put out there for thought is what is the definition of "performance enhancing"? I consulted many online sources including a paper published in a Harvard Law journal, as well as grilling my Human Biology educated partner and the fact is that its an incredibly complicated subject which, for the main part is over-simplified by most sporting bodies. Yes steroids and blood doping provide obvious performance enhancements, but so can non-banned substances such as Tylenol or other such drugs which can relieve muscle soreness, or an asthma inhaler which can open airways and improve respiration. What about dietary supplements and vitamins? They obviously do aid the performance of the athlete, but most anti-doping bodies would never consider this "performance enhancing". 

Pain meds are a personal interest because of my interest in motorsport and in particular for this blog, MotoGP. Many riders, at different times, have ridden with varying amounts of pain medication which allows them to ride, but again this is not considered "performance enhancing", but its hard to imagine someone riding with some of the injuries motorcycle riders have ridden with in the past (broken bones, torn ligaments etc) without the use of pain medication to mask the effects of the injury on their riding ability. Then there is the whole subject of custom manufactured braces etc. Recently a celebrated MotoGP rider had a serious accident and the only way he could compete was with a custom made carbon fiber brace to support his injuries. Is that not also "performance enhancing"? Many professional tennis players require the use of braces and other wrappings to ensure they can complete matches - Performance enhancing? What really muddies the waters is that the governing bodies of some sports WILL define a pain medication as a performance enhancing drug but others won't! How can that possibly be acceptable?

This blog has gotten to the point where it could turn into a rant and that's not the intent but I do think we have over-simplified a serious and complicated issue in order to both feel appeased in ourselves that something is being done and for the authorities to always appear as if they are doing something to justify their positions AND their remuneration. It's worth noting that the USADA's pursuit of Lance Armstrong only kicked into high gear because of 2 factors - 1) Refusal of the U.S. Justice Department to pursue the case in the Federal courts, as it has done with other USADA cases, and, 2) After the USADA's $13.7 Million a year ($9 Million provided by taxpayers) no questions asked, budget started to be queried by members of Congress. It is also worth noting that since the Armstrong case, legislation has been tabled in the U.S. congress to force the USADA to under go more oversight examination to make sure in can justify its activities.

Ok, back to my base point. I don't condone deliberate doping/drugs in sport, but I also don't believe that the onus should be forced completely back onto the sportspeople to ensure they are not unknowingly or accidentally taking a banned substance because the ability to know EVERY banned substance is practically impossible. The Anti-Doping bodies MUST do more than stand there waving a big stick around. If governing bodies of sports want to ban every single substance that MIGHT have some stimulant or other possible performance enhancing effect, than maybe they should also take on the responsibility of providing athletes the list of APPROVED products they can use, in-particular for everyday items we take for granted like cold and flu remedies. Too simply say a particular chemical is a banned substance without taking any responsibility upon themselves to help athletes avoid that substance is LAZY and, IMO, points to a reactive rather than proactive approach to the problem.

Next time - I WILL write about RC. I have been playing with some new goodies and the results have been positive.