Shelley Bridgeman picks up the theme:
Do you ever get the feeling that our attitude towards sport and athletes is trapped in some sort of virtual time-warp? At least that was my initial response to Graydon Carter’s thought-provokingÂ editorialÂ in the latest issue ofÂ Vanity FairÂ which compared the double standards we apply to sports as opposed to other aspects of human endeavour.
“When an actor gives a cocaine-fuel[l]ed, Oscar-winning performance, do we take his award away? Do we reclaim a singer’s Grammy, or put an asterisk after it in the record books, when we discover that he was ramped up on illegal substances? Why all the outrage over athletes?” he asked.
“Let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t take a pill or potion that would make us better at our job? Goodness knows, we abuse substances for just about everything in our personal lives; why not in our professional lives as well?”
Exactly…and they do..so why the outrage:
There’s surely something a little bit 1950s about our insistence that athletes and their urine samples are pure as the driven snow. Just like the advice to housewives about making themselves presentable when their husbands return home after a hard day at the office, our obsession with keeping performance-enhancing drugs out of sport verges on being quaint and old-fashioned.
In its refusal to acknowledge the reality that drugs, in their various forms, are almost inescapable these days, it even has shades of those flawed arguments from the 1980s about sport and politics not mixing. How long can we maintain this affectation that sportspeople must be squeaky clean on the drug front?
I want to see athletes juiced to the gunwhales…
Presumably the drugs are getting both more effective and more difficult, if not impossible, to detect. What happens when they evolve to a point where they surpass our ability to screen for them – and how do we know that hasn’t actually occurred?
The tipping point will surely come when performance-enhancing drugs, far from harming an athlete’s body, shortening their career or delivering unwanted side-effects, are actually health enhancing too. When these drugs are actively good for you, even the hitherto ‘clean’ athletes are likely to demand their share.
When the appeal of drug-assisted sporting performances stretches beyond the unscrupulous, desperate athletes and filters down to the mainstream contingent the rules will have to change. My prediction is that, like it or not, we’ll eventually have to relinquish this entrenched belief that sport is somehow divorced from scientific advances and the realities of modern life.