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Opinion

We're winning the fight against doping in sports

Despite sensational scandals, antidoping efforts – and a shift in values – are restoring integrity.

By Caroline K. Hatton / November 23, 2010



Los Angeles

From Olympic gold medalists to Tour de France champions, a depressing number of star athletes have been caught up in doping scandals in recent years.

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Given all the sensational headlines about confessions, investigations, and indictments, sports fans may think the doping problem is getting worse.

Some even think the fight against it is hopeless – or that we shouldn't bother. But it is important to keep fighting doping in sports. And the good news is that we're making remarkable progress in the effort to keep competition clean.

Related: Tour de France 2010 delivers drama – without the doping

The use of performance-enhancing substances or methods is prohibited because it is unfair, potentially dangerous to health, and violates the spirit of sport. The issue matters to society because whatever our values are, we should live by them in every facet of our lives.

If we genuinely and deeply value respect – for rules, laws, others, and ourselves – we must respect the rules when we play sports. We must have enough respect for others to protect fairness in every form of commerce with them. We must respect ourselves enough not to cheat and not to tinker with healthy bodies and minds in misguided, artificial ways, because it would be cheating ourselves out of our own true life.

Related: Fix the fix on sports

Some say, "Why not allow drugs in sports?" I respond by asking them, "At what age would you start doping your own children? At 10? At 2? Before birth?" I also tell them how allowing drugs in sports, in a sense, has already been tried. In the 1960s, before doping was prohibited, one too many doped athlete literally dropped dead in the public eye. It's because something had to be done that antidoping efforts first started.

Remarkable progress

Looking that far back reveals enormous, if slow, progress. In the 1980s, when I started working as an antidoping scientist, rules and sanctions varied across sports and countries. Almost no research funding was available to close loopholes, such as the lack of test for blood-booster medicines or growth hormone. All of that has changed now.

The list of antidoping rules violations has grown to include unacceptable conduct such as athletes refusing to be tested or trainers trying to dope athletes. Sanctions are possible for coaches or doctors involved in doping and for teams when one member is caught.

Enforcing strict liability put an end to excuses for positive tests, but didn't magically create objective criteria for distinguishing cheating from honest, inadvertent mishaps. Athletes who have a legitimate medical need to use a prohibited substance can request permission in the form of a therapeutic use exemption. Despite that, no matter where the line is drawn, it will probably always grieve some innocents and let some offenders get away.

Worldwide sports authorities and law enforcement agencies have been teaming up. They have tightened the net around drug users, and undone doping rings. These changes, which seemed unimaginable decades ago, are helping restore integrity to athletics.

This gives me bright hope that a world of sport in which doping has fallen out of fashion is possible.

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