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Hope for (NO) Dope

Ankit Bareja
Editor's Pick
949   //    14 Nov 2012, 16:19 IST

Ben Johnson, who clocked 9.79 seconds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, world-record at that time, was later disqualified for testing positive for stanozolol.

Picture this. It’s the 100m finals of the 2032 Olympics. The world stands on its feet to witness the biggest showdown of the sporting world. Amidst the deafening cheers and a thousand sparkling camera clicks, we have 8 great runners lined up to chase their dream. The world record stands at 8.5 seconds. Each one of them has timed sub 9 seconds in their heats and surprisingly none of them belongs to the sub-Saharan ethnicity. This race is a celebration of the human form, albeit a human form tweaked by the human himself.

Yes, we live in a world which aggrandizes the acts of testing the thresholds of the human mind, body and soul and where science and technology play God. And if this trend continues, doping may become a norm and sporting events like this race a commonplace.

Denying the pervasiveness of doping in modern sports would be fatuous and to accept it as inevitable without taking any action wouldn’t be any less foolish. We live in a testosterone-driven society where athletes are gunning for high stakes (Cristiano Ronaldo‘s net worth is $160 million). Speaking at a press conference in Paris on Monday, David Howman, director – general of WADA, said that “with $25-30 million, WADA’s budget is less than some European footballers earn” and that “WADA isn’t in a position to tackle this type of sophisticated cheating.” So does that mean we continue living in a paradox? Should we legalize certain performance enhancing drugs rather than putting the names of the ‘disgraced’ athletes in the hall of shame?

It’s a bit like arguing whether marijuana be legalized or not. In a world where athletes succumb to performance pressure by consuming drugs procured from unknown sources, wouldn’t it be better to legalize certain drugs and monitor their consumption by the athletes in a controlled and transparent way? This way, the unforeseen health hazards (through unknown drugs) posed to the athletes can be prevented. Another aspect is the clandestine forces conspiring for personal interests. Gabriela Battaini-Dragoni, assistant secretary-general of the council of Europe aptly puts it, “the economic stakes are high and therefore give rise to corruption through illegal betting and match-fixing. There is complicity in everything criminal around sport and that impacts on doping and performance.” Also, keeping aside the physical effects of doping and the moral issues involved, one may argue that body suits and other sporting equipment are in no way different in giving an unfair advantage to one athlete over others. Basically, it all boils down to where we slack off ethically.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of all his seven Tour de France titles earlier this year.

Morally, doping is a strict NO. Even if one of the athletes is doped, it’s an insult to the others who are fighting it out clean. Despite a lot of naysayers, the USADA intended to prove the same when they laid allegations on Lance Armstrong of helping run the most sophisticated doping program in sports within his US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams even though they did so on the testimony of other cyclists who doped themselves. The point is that Armstrong, despite his larger than life aura of being a cancer survivor helping millions fight a similar battle, isn’t bigger than the game. As much as we love our sporting heroes, we wouldn’t wait to turn a blind eye to their feats if we knew beforehand that they were doped because in our eyes, sports stands for everything utopian. Therefore, for the sake of providing a level playing field and keeping the image of sports clean, doping should be banned completely.

In gene doping, the genes are modified artificially to make an athlete adept at a particular sport or activity.

Another pertinent issue which remains to be solved is how sophisticated doping has become. For instance, gene doping, which is very difficult to detect as its tests are very subjective in nature.  Even though nothing could be proved against her about gene doping or other drugs, Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer raised many eyebrows when she bagged two gold medals despite being a named unheard of till last year. Armstrong’s case was probably just a tip of the iceberg and the problem becomes much darker as we delve deeper. It will be interesting to see if the authorities give into such acts of posthumanism or find ways to tackle them. While anti-doping bodies are trying hard to combat doping, it is great to hear athletes like Roger Federer and Andy Murray calling for more blood and out-of-competition testing in tennis. Like tennis, other athletes should realize that the onus lies on them to keep themselves and their sports clean.

Back home, it’s a different ball-game altogether. In the latest IAAF list of offenders, a staggering 40 Indian athletes figure in the list of 204 offenders all over the world. These names include top Indian athletes –  Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medalists Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose. Honestly, our athletes don’t exactly belong to the elite class of world-beaters and I strongly believe that the reason for such disgraceful acts is not a conspiracy or high stakes. I believe it’s the lack of incentives (income, prize money, sponsorship, etc.) in the local sports circuit which drives an individual to give into this financial pressure. Banning them for using substance wouldn’t solve the purpose – backing them financially may.

At present, the war on doping seems to be failing. The reason being that complex doping works similar to normal physiological processes and thus it is beating the dope tests. So do we accept doping as a process of evolution, or do we bend our backs, sometimes unnecessarily, to catch the ‘wrong-doers’? In a quest for enhanced life, will doping be considered ‘normal’ in the times to come? It is a harsh reality to digest because it puts the integrity of the human spirit in question. Personally, I feel that sometimes life isn’t about keeping score – it’s about reveling in the feats of the human body with its given limitations. But what if we want to cross the limits inadvertently?

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