Slaps on the wrist only en­cour­age the de­vi­ous

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“I TAKE my po­si­tion in the sport very se­ri­ously and I know that I have to not only abide by the rules, but also go above and be­yond that to set a good ex­am­ple both morally and eth­i­cally.

“It is clear that the TUE (ther­a­peu­tic use ex­emp­tion) sys­tem is open to abuse and I be­lieve that this is some­thing that the UCI and Wada (the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency) needs to ur­gently ad­dress. At the same time there are ath­letes who not only abide by the rules that are in place, but also those of fair play.

“I have never had a ‘win at all costs’ ap­proach in this re­gard. I am not look­ing to push the bound­aries of the rules. I be­lieve that this is some­thing that ath­letes need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, un­til more strin­gent pro­to­cols can be put in place.”

The above state­ment was posted by Bri­tish cy­cling star Chris Froome, af­ter a clutch of top in­ter­na­tional ath­letes who had TUEs, es­sen­tially ex­emp­tions that al­lowed them to use med­i­ca­tion that is on the pro­hib­ited list pro­vided by Wada, were ex­posed.

The mantra “win at all costs” is often ap­plied to sports, but the buck is sup­posed to stop at the point where ath­letes re­quire a med­i­cal help­ing hand in or­der to gain the cru­cial ad­van­tage over their com­peti­tors. It is sup­posed to, but it is not al­ways the case, as money, glory and a host of other in­cen­tives have taken some of the world’s great sport­ing he­roes and ex­posed them as frauds and cheats of the most de­spi­ca­ble kind.

On that same ex­emp­tion list, names as mighty as ten­nis cham­pion Ser­ena Wil­liams, Amer­ica’s Olympic dar­ling Si­mone Biles and Bradley Wig­gins, ap­peared. The list was pub­lished by the Rus­sian “Fancy Bears” hack­ing unit, who hacked the records from Wada’s sys­tems.

Of course, the Fancy Bears have an agenda of their own, as many ex­perts of the field have seen the hack­ing as an at­tempt to sug­gest that Wada is some­how com­plicit to dop­ing by cer­tain ath­letes, as the Rus­sian govern­ment was found to have been across many of the sport­ing fed­er­a­tions within the Euro­pean pow­er­house.

The sug­ges­tion that Wada would some­how al­low any ath­lete to use per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing sub­stances on their watch is bizarre, but the spot­light that the Fancy Bears have pointed at the sys­tem has got the world talk­ing.

Box­ing great Floyd May­weather was cel­e­brated as this gen­er­a­tion’s finest prac­ti­tioner of the sweet sci­ence, but he utilised an in­tra­venous in­jec­tion for “re­hy­dra­tion” the day be­fore his su­per­fight with Manny Pac­quaio last year.

May­weather, has also been crit­i­cised for his use of li­do­caine, or xy­lo­caine, a numb­ing agent for his hands, over the course of his ca­reer. The in­jec­tion is only per­mis­si­ble in the state of Ne­vada, which is why May­weather’s ca­reer has seen him fight al­most ex­clu­sively out of the desert state.

Given the fact that li­do­caine numbs the hands, thus al­low­ing a boxer to throw punches with­out feel­ing nearly as much pain, it could be ar­gued that he is us­ing a per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drug. Win at all costs, as they say. May­weather’s ex­emp­tion to use the in­jec­tion was pro­vided by a med­i­cal con­di­tion, and the same ap­plies for the list of stars on the Fancy Bears’ list. Sev­eral of them have asthma. In fact, a very high per­cent­age of lead­ing ath­letes – es­pe­cially in en­durance sports – suf­fer from some form of asthma.

Pro­fes­sor John Dickinson, of the Univer­sity of Kent, told the Guardian news­pa­per that many ath­letes suf­fer from “ex­er­cise-in­duced asthma”, be­cause they are ex­posed to heav­ily pol­luted en­vi­ron­ments, cold or dry air, and chlo­rine in pool water. These con­di­tions can lead to in­flam­ma­tion of the air­ways dur­ing ac­tiv­ity. Sub­se­quently, these ath­letes then get med­i­cal ex­emp­tions to use cor­ti­cos­teroids, ad­min­is­tered orally. Ex­perts ar­gue that the oral use of cor­ti­cos­teroids means that the dose is far stronger than that found in an in­haler, thus giv­ing the sup­pos­edly ail­ing ath­lete an un­fair ad­van­tage.

In the spe­cific case of asthma in sport, and the abil­ity for the sys­tem to be ma­nip­u­lated, many are now ques­tion­ing whether asthma-suf­fer­ers should be al­lowed to com­pete on the same plat­form as ath­letes who, as Froome in­ti­mated, play by all the rules.

The world’s sports stars are el­e­vated to a higher stand­ing, richly re­warded for their nat­u­ral abil­i­ties. The key word is nat­u­ral. Per­haps it is time that Wada took a firmer stance, and in­sisted that there are no med­i­cal ex­emp­tions, be­cause elite ath­letes should be ex­actly that – elite. If the air is too rare­fied for them, then they can­not com­pete on the same field as those who use noth­ing but nat­u­ral abil­ity.

It would be a mas­sive call, but it would be just about the only guar­an­tee that ev­ery­one is on the same page. The big­gest chal­lenge for Wada is that they are fight­ing against an in­tri­cate field of ex­perts, many of whom are re­lent­lessly push­ing the boat, try­ing to mask en­hance­ments or at least pro­vide suf­fi­cient rea­son for ex­emp­tions to be granted.

Froome’s call for more strin­gent mea­sures is ide­al­is­tic, be­cause it is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for Wada to draw a line. Year upon year, the world’s au­thor­ity on sports medicine have to move the goal­posts, as they try to fol­low – and curb –the lat­est trends to win at all costs.

M a r Shara­pova, i a

was slapped with a ban for us­ing mel­do­nium, a sub­stance that was pre­vi­ously not on the pro­hib­ited list of banned sub­stances. There was – and still is – a huge so­cial me­dia cam­paign in sup­port of her, but Shara­pova’s was a high- pro­file ex­am­ple of the chal­lenges that Wada are con­fronted with.

They sent out sev­eral no­tices of the changes to the pro­hib­ited list, and Shara­pova sup­pos­edly “for­got” to up­date her medicine cup­board. She was handed a two-year ban, but that has since been re­duced to 15 months.

As Shara­pova con­tin­ued to try and ex­plain her way out of her mel­do­nium scan­dal, she of­fered up the limpest rally of her ca­reer. “It’s used in Rus­sia,” she told ESPN.

The Fancy Bears wouldn’t have seen that one com­ing. Of all the de­fences in all of sport, to try and sug­gest her use of a sub­stance be­cause it is used in Rus­sia was as ill-con­ceived as her very public cel­e­bra­tion of the ban re­duc­tion this week. It smacked of an ar­ro­gance, a sense of achieve­ment that she hasn’t lost out too much.

The ten­nis world, as com­pet­i­tive and ac­count­able a field as they come, has ob­vi­ously re­acted to the re­duc­tion. “Ev­ery sin­gle time I have to take some­thing, I check many times with many peo­ple,” To­mas Berdych re­it­er­ated this week.

“At the end, you are the player, you are the ath­lete, and you are the one who’s go­ing to be tested,” he added, which flew in the face of the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in Sport, which ruled that Shara­pova could have been told more clearly that mel­do­nium had been added to the banned list, which led to the re­duc­tion in her ban.

“Any­one who gives a pos­i­tive test should get pun­ished. Should they get a re­duc­tion? I don’t think so,” Gilles Muller ex­plained. “It shows other sports­men that the pun­ish­ment is not go­ing to be that

big.” And that, es­sen­tially, is the chal­lenge fac­ing au­thor­i­ties. Slaps on the wrist only e ncour­age the de­vi­ous to be­come even more brazen. They re­alise that, ac­tu­ally, the juice is worth the de­spi­ca­ble squeeze.

WIN­NING WORTH THE COST? Ath­letes like Bradley Wig­gins are ac­cused of push­ing the bound­aries of Wada’s TUE sys­tem.

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