In an article in today's Times Online, Matt Syed tells us it's "Time to rebel against invasive drug rules." He writes:
"The debate on drugs in sport has been driven by fanaticism for too long. The idea has been abroad that the only way to confront the scourge of cheating is to adopt a zero-tolerance approach that treats professional sportsmen as something akin to criminals. Oppressive monitoring, invasive scrutiny, blood testing — all are part and parcel of the Orwellian reality of modern sport...Some will say that professional sportsmen are at perfect liberty to retire from whatever sport they happen to be playing if they do not like the prevailing rules of the game, but there is a more attractive option at their disposal. They should tell WADA to take a running jump — and thus gain possession, once again, of their lives and liberties."
Certainly not your standard, fawning, "anti-dopers can do no wrong" media coverage, and a piece worthy of debate. Please read this piece in its entirety (provided below) and if you have any feedback, don't hesitate to share it.
Those within the anti-doping apparatus have no inhibition. They want to go farther still. The British Olympic Association is seeking unprecedented legal powers to allow the police to search the rooms of athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games. The UK Anti-Doping agency (Ukad), which opened its doors for business for the first time on Monday, is reportedly considering hiring private detectives to spy on athletes to detect nefarious behaviour.
On the second point, one wonders why this is necessary. The International Standard for Testing protocol, issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), requires top athletes to provide information on their whereabouts three months in advance. For an hour of every day the athlete must be available at a designated location to conduct a random drugs test. Popping out is not an option; a missed test and you are a third of the way to the obliteration of your career and reputation.
But that is not all. The athlete must also tell the authorities where he will be sleeping every night, where he will be training and competing, and any other regular activity in which he is involved, whether going to school, a part-time job, whatever. The authorities want to know the pattern of your behaviour, the way you go about your sport, the way you conduct your private life, because — even beyond the specified hour — they retain the right to conduct a random test.
These are serious matters. The right to privacy is enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and for good reason. As George Orwell understood, the moment that power is handed to any institution — and unelected institutions most of all — there is a malign tendency to make unjustified incursions into the private sphere of the individual. For years sportsmen willingly endured the indignity of peeing into a cup under the gaze of anonymous testers, but the totalitarian scrutiny of the new rules has tilted them towards rebellion.
“It’s crazy,” Rafael Nadal has said. “I don’t know if, from a legal point of view, this is correct. That is, to know where you are every single moment of your life. It’s a high price to pay to practise your sport.”
The Spanish tennis player is not alone. Andy Murray has said that “these new rules are so draconian that it makes it almost impossible to live a normal life”. Meanwhile, Michel D’Hooghe, the medical committee chairman of Fifa, the governing body of world football, likened the rules to an “inquisition”.
What is certain is that professional sport is gripped by paranoia. “We spend our days panicking, having always to think about when our nominated hour is on that day,” was the conclusion of an open letter by 16 Olympic and World Championship medal-winning rowers in February last year.
“There are some athletes who are so worried about missing tests inadvertently they have said if they got to two missed tests they would seriously consider retiring,” said Pete Gardner, of the British Athletes Commission.
The complexity of Wada’s form-filling requirements has led to claims that doping violations are more likely to be the consequence of administrative naivety rather than deliberate cheating. In November, Yanina Wickmayer, a 20-year-old tennis player from Belgium, was suspended for 12 months for failing to provide her whereabouts three times. She claimed that it was because of a logistical misunderstanding.
Her conviction was suspended by the Belgian courts last month owing to concerns about due process and the International Tennis Federation, after a brief period of silence, rescinded her ban. But the stain to her reputation remains. Wada, for its part, continues to push forward, to the extent of appealing Wickmayer’s original ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the possibility that it could be reintroduced and extended.
It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Wada, together with its anti-doping affiliates around the world, has become a gigantic, publicly subsidised industry with little interest in civil liberties and even less in the principles of natural justice. While the presumption of guilt implied by the strict liability clause of the Wada code was accepted by many as a necessary legal device to prevent cheats getting away with their crimes, the operation of the code has created a bonanza of false positives.
In an investigative article in the British Journal of Sports Medicinein 2008, it was shown that the vast majority of positive test results in tennis between 2003 and 2007 had been a consequence not of cheating but of factors such as recreational drug taking and the use of over-the-counter medications prescribed by doctors unfamiliar with the (ever-expanding) Prohibited List.
Wada’s appetite for perverse convictions was perhaps best highlighted by the case of a wheelchair tennis player who had previously been hospitalised for asthma. The player took all her medical papers to the tournament, but because she had faxed the original therapeutic-use exemption application to the wrong address, she had no valid exemption in place. She was banned for one month. Wickmayer would doubtless sympathise.
Asked about the vexed issue of the whereabouts rule, Andy Parkinson, who heads Ukad, offered the following observation: “There is no doubt whereabouts is intrusive, but as long as it’s proportionate to the risk of doping in sport, then it has a very valid place.” The problem, however, is that the anti-doping industry lost sight of the concept of proportionality long ago.
Drugs enhance performance through two principal mechanisms: by boosting strength (anabolic steroids, etc) and endurance (EPO, blood doping and the like). In single-dimension sports such as running, cycling, swimming and lifting, these can confer a material advantage. That is why drug cheating is endemic and a valid argument can be made that drug-free competition in these sports demands all the measures at the disposal of Wada.
But in the vast majority of sports — tennis, football, badminton, hockey, cricket and so on — the gains of prohibited substances are far less certain. Roger Federer is not the best tennis player in the world because he has superior muscles or more oxygenated blood, but because of the sophistication of his timing and perceptual awareness. These attributes are immune to the chemical promptings of drugs, which is why doping is so much rarer in such sports. (The same applies to football. Lionel Messi could have the endurance of Hercules and the muscles of Achilles, but it would not help him to kick a football any more accurately.) In effect, tennis players, footballers and the like are being asked to pay an intolerable price in fear, paranoia and institutional intrusion for transgressions that have taken place in sports with entirely different risk profiles. Wada likes to call it harmonisation, without seeming to realise, much less care, that by creating a one-size-fits-all regime tailored for the lowest common denominator, it has torn to shreds the legal principle of proportionality.
Some will say that professional sportsmen are at perfect liberty to retire from whatever sport they happen to be playing if they do not like the prevailing rules of the game, but there is a more attractive option at their disposal. They should tell Wada to take a running jump — and thus gain possession, once again, of their lives and liberties.