Friday, 5 June 2015

Drugs in sport: a manifesto of sorts

Here are some propositions for putting drugs in context with the broader definitions in sport.  There are no hyperlinks to news articles. There are no equations. There are no scientific articles and few drugs are actually mentioned in context. We assume the drugs work as prescribed. Anyone reading this far already has opinions on the matter of drugs in sport, therefore I am avoiding superfluous quotes from other op-eds.

I am searching for beginnings, rather than ends to the conversation on drugs in competition. We already know 'getting caught' is 'bad'. But why? What starting point brought us to this conclusion? These are seven propositions that seem, collectively, like as good a starting place as any. Basically I have assembled collection of (what appear to be) generally-true statements about drugs. Some statements are trivial, others contentious, some others vague. I'm curious what others see in them.

So here are the seven propositions for what we consider when bettering oneself at a sport:

1) Drugs in sport must discussed on a case-by-case basis. To refer to all drugs simultaneously (on the subject of cheating in sports) will lead to absurd pairings, such as caffeine and heroin. In an analogous way, consider various cancers. Melanoma, brain tumours, leukaemia, and pancreatic cancer are wildly different in terms of both treatments and survival rates. To refer to 'cancer' collectively is insufficient to pass along any meaningful judgement, and likewise for 'drugs'.

2) If a given drug is permissible in a given sport, it must be available, in theory, to all athletes. It is possible an athlete can refuse a drug, of course, but if one athlete is permitted to have take a substance, all other can do the same. The current practice of therapeutic use exemption (TUE), whereby banned drugs are permitted in special cases, is subject to abuse and causes more levels of unfairness than it prevents.

3) We acknowledge that the inclusion or exclusion of any individual drug from any given sport has nothing to do with overall fairness of competition. If a enhancement such as EPO were freely available to all athletes, but not safe for all to use (perhaps due to an athlete's heart condition, etc.), then the proverbial 'playing field' remains unlevelled. Complex interactions of new drugs with a given genetic makeup will lead to a new dimension complexity, and not lead to any kind of simplification.

4) The inclusion of any individual drug in any sport is not based on its safety. Although it is tempting to argue only 'safe' drugs be allowed in a given sport, it impossible to prove what is acceptable on this basis. For instance salt tablets can be dangerous if overdosed, leading to dehydration. Vitamin A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, and can be overprescribed as well. Aspirin and alcohol are very dangerous in large quantities. Conversely THC and psychedelic mushrooms are difficult to overdose to the point of fatality. Corollary: either a maximum drug dose must be agree upon by the majority of players involved, else it is up to the individual how much to consume. But safety alone cannot be the foundation for what these maximum doses are.

5) Banning a given substance should no lead to banning the education of that drug. Understanding how drugs work does not imply condoning their use, no more than studying war crimes means approval of these atrocities.

6) Rules must first emphasize what is allowed, and what is expected of the participant, in order to play the game. Not being 'caught' taking a banned drug is a weak foundation for competition. A drug-free sport is no more 'honourable' than motorcycle-free bike race. Cheating in chess is trivial (in theory) since illegal moves are identical to legals ones, save for disobeying the agreed-upon rules of engagement. Likewise cheating in a race can be as simple as taking a shortcut. Bar trivia competitions ban the use of phones, and despite being mostly unenforced few cheat due to the social risks of doing so.

7) Social contracts will forever be the foundation of drugs rules, and never wholly dependent on scientific methods. Despite the advances in drug detection, these are equalled by greater advances in drug detection avoidance. Drug detection policies must operate in daylight, whereas drug avoidance is concealed, therefore always will have a upper hand. Rules in sport, including drug practices, are ultimately social in nature.

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