Friday, November 9, 2007 - INDi2010 Racing Team
INDi2010 Update: Keeping Sport Clean

- By: Rhonda Sandau

Almost every Canadian remembers where they were and what they were doing when Ben Johnson raced to a gold medal in the 100m at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. As a seven year old, I distinctly remember watching the infamous race on multiple TVs at a used furniture store. I was in awe of the excitement that surrounded the gold medal performance. Unfortunately, as with most Canadians, I also distinctly remember being told a few days later that Ben Johnson had cheated and had been stripped of his gold.

While the Ben Johnson incident was my first exposure to cheating and drug use in sport, the event didn't tarnish my expectations of the Olympics or amateur sport in general. I still believed that all sports, except track & field, were clean. As the years past and more drug use cases arose, my list of "dirty" sports gradually grew, but as far as I knew skiing was still a clean and pure sport. My naivety was abruptly shattered when the 2001 XC World Championships doping scandal topped the headlines. Six Finish athletes had tested positive for an illegal substance (hydroxyethyl starch, a banned blood plasma expander). Adding to the headlines was the fact that these six athletes were the stars of the Finish Ski Team and had been caught cheating at the World Championships, held in there home country! My perspective and outlook on elite sport had changed. There was now a seed of doubt in my mind that perhaps the naturally strongest or fastest athlete wasn't necessarily the one who was winning.

Since 2001 there has been a constant stream of drug use in sport, including the positive tests of two Russian skiers at the 2002 Olympic Games, Operation Peurto (the Spanish drug scandal which tied athletes in many sports to drug use) as well as a list of major cycling stars, including Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, and Alexander Vinokourov, who have tested positive for drugs. In the majority of the cases, the cheating athlete stated their innocence and explained their positive test with some very creative excuse. For a brief period of time, Tyler Hamilton was apparently a genetic chimera and naturally produced two genetically distinct red blood cells. Landis blamed faulty testing protocols after briefly claiming his positive came from downing a case of beer the night before, while Vinikourov blamed his crash a few days before his positive test. The futile excuses of Hamilon were followed by a resounding GUILTY verdict by the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), where Landis is now headed after losing a round of arbitration in the US, while Vinikourov's case hasn't been dealt with yet. One has to wonder if maybe the drugs these people have been taking have enhanced their physical performance while harming their mental capacity.

Taken in a positive light, the constant stream of positive tests can be viewed as the constructive work of WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA was established in 1999 with the mandate to fight against drug use in sport. WADA, with the support of the IOC and international and nation sport organizations has taken on the role of testing athletes for drug use as well as promoting drug free sport. There is no doubt that more dirty athletes have been caught since the inception of WADA, but is this a result of WADA's good work, or is it the effect of increased drug use? As an athlete I hope that it is the result of WADA's hard work.

In the past two months, the fight against drug use in sport has taken an unprecedented path, as athletes have started to come out on their own and admit their drug use. In September, former Canadian cyclist star Genevieve Jeanson, who was already serving a ban for a positive test, admitted to using drugs throughout her career. Similarly, in October track star Marion Jones admitted to steroid use and was disqualified from all competitions after September 2001, including her five Olympic medals. I find it interesting that the guilt of cheating has finally started to outweigh the desire to win at any cost. While drug testing obviously didn't catch Marion Jones, it should be noted that their drug use occurred in the early 2000's, just as WADA was in its infancy. I am optimistic (and hopefully not nave) that with WADAs presence it is not as easy to slip through the cracks as Jones did.

There is no doubt that there is a long history of cheating and drug use in sport. There are stories of athletes in ancient Greek consuming unusual concoctions to increase their performance. There is also the incident at the 1904 Olympics when marathon runner Fred Lorz hitched a ride in the back of a car in a feeble attempt to win the Olympic marathon. In the same race, another competitor, Thomas Hicks, collapsed at the end of the race due to consuming a cocktail of brandy and strychnine. Cheating in sport is not new. With the long history of drug use in sport, will sport ever be fair and clean? Can the next generation of athletes grow up with the dreams of winning Olympic medals in drug free sport? I hope so.

Recently, however, a few sport critics, including Oxford ethics professor Julian Savulescu, have argued that creating drug free sport is an uphill battle that is bound to fail. They believe that the only way to create a fair playing field is to legalize drug use, specifically those drugs that don't have "serious health implications", such as HGH, beta-blockers and even EPO. They argue that drugs will provide "genetically unfavoured" athletes the chance to compete against those who "won the genetic lottery". They also argue that since it is difficult to establish a distinct line between cheating & drug use with not cheating, why not open the door and allow everything. In their eyes, a mega dose of Vitamin C and using EPO should be considered equal and legal methods to improving performance. They have even gone as far as suggesting that there should be a "clean" and "doped" category at the Olympics. The suggestion that drugs should be legalized is ridiculous, and as far as I can tell will never be implemented within amateur sport. My response to anyone who thinks that drugs should be legalized is that they are either not a true athlete or are involved in sport for the wrong reasons. One of the biggest joys of sport is pushing yourself to your limits, naturally.

This brings us to a tough question: how do we create clean and drug free sport? WADA has obviously been addressing this issue and is hopefully implementing systems to enforce their mandate. Ironically, I think that all sports need to follow the actions of one of the most notoriously dirty sports: cycling. The UCI (International Cycling Federation) has implemented a voluntary program where cyclists sign a "I am drug free" contract. Athletes who sign this contract and are later caught using drugs are forced to pay a year's salary, followed with the traditional two-year ban, and a further two-year ban from Pro Tour level racing. The Tour de France attempted to take the program one step forward by forcing all competitors to sign the agreement. (Needless to say, anyone refusing to sign the drug-free contract is highly suspect.) International sport organizations should implement a similar, compulsory program. For example, any skier who wants to be issued a FIS racing license could be required to sign an anti-doping contract. In the case that a skier is caught for drug use, they are would be legally responsible for their actions in a more significant way than just a sporting bad; they should face stringent repercussions including large fines and even criminal charges. The bottom line is that sport won't be drug free until the cost of cheating heavily outweighs the possible benefits.

Drug use may have been hiding in the shadows in the past, but it is certainly now out in the open. I am optimistic that in the future drug users will not only be caught, but that athletes around the world will respect and participate in clean sport.

Team Supporters

Will and Sheila Davis

Will and Sheila Davis (Uncle Will and Aunt Sheila to Jeff) have always shown great interest in Jeff's athletic pursuits. Both of them are active and fit people themselves, and can be often found swimming at the local YMCA in Orillia. Will is an accomplished pianist and a real estate agent and Sheila is a social worker. Their support is greatly appreciated!

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