Slaps on the wrist only encourage the devious
“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.