Doping Is Naughty But Not Criminal

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The UK Government has published its Review of Criminalisation of Doping in Sport, and concluded that doping in the UK should not be criminalised. It’s definitely naughty though, you shouldn’t do it, and the report envisions better use of existing powers to combat doping.

Doping is criminalised in Italy and France, so get caught there and you become involved with the police. One potential advantage of this system is that it limits the scope for corruption and conflicts of interest. If you’re a sports governing body or a race organiser with commercial sponsorships or partnerships, it’s probably not great news if your athletes start turning up positive doping results. The police however have no such concerns, so are potentially more likely to get stuck in to investigating things – although as the report points out, this depends on the police prioritising such investigations. Depending on what else they’ve got on their plate – murders, burglaries, theft etc – you might find that the police don’t take too much interest in someone doping at their local sportive or even national athletics meet.

Just say no. Or don’t get caught?

Without criminal sanctions, the report suggests doping may be better combated through better sharing of information between sporting bodies, education, and effective testing. Five characteristics of effective testing are identified in the report:

  • a) Random, no-notice testing out-of-competition;
  • b) Use blood, urine and other physiological testing methods;
  • c) Broad spectrum analysis (i.e. looking at the composition of the sample and comparing it with normal samples, rather than looking for specific drugs);
  • d) Frequent tests for high risk individuals with longitudinal comparisons (i.e. the biological passport approach);
  • e) Supervision of sample production (i.e. ensuring that the athlete cannot tamper or exchange the sample).

It might come as a surprise to some readers that in competition testing tends to be fairly predictable. The report notes that it is usually necessary to tell the event organisers in advance that UKAD plans to carry out tests. This results in athletes knowing that they will be tested – giving them the opportunity to adjust their doping practices – or develop last minute injuries and illnesses to take them out the competition. One of the report’s recommendations is that UKAD officials should have access to all sporting events to enable random testing as required.

So, it doesn’t look like that much is going to change as a result of this report. If the recommendation to give UKAD officials automatic access to any sporting event is progressed, it could however result in some interesting debate. When is a sporting event a sporting event? Could officials turn up at a sportive? Or an enduro? How about a local downhill race? Should we all expect to potentially be asked to pee in a cup if we enter a race?

The report does talk about targeted testing, aiming for intelligence based testing rather than trying to test hundreds of people in the hope of catching someone at it. We’ve no idea whether there are many performance enhancing substances being taken in mountain biking – though we’d suspect there’s plenty of recreational stuff going on. But why should mountain biking be any different to any other sport for people seeking performance enhancement – there are still titles and prizes to be won.

As far as we know there’s no testing on the EWS circuit. We’d be astounded if Red Bull Rampage had ever had a visit from WADA. Do we mind? Do the athletes mind? Do we want to know our idols are riding clean? Or do we take the view that it’s up to each competitor to take the risks that they choose – whether it’s line choice, breakneck speed, or a pill that keeps you riding harder for longer at an unknown cost to their health?

What do you think? Is professional sport a pure and worthy pursuit worth protecting at all costs? Or is it just entertainment?
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Comments (13)

    legalize it all. Imagine the breakthroughs in medicine with the money from sport behind it.

    I kind of struggle to care.
    I see it as completely unethical, but if you have huge amounts of cash in a sport, teams & to a lesser extent individuals, will cheat.
    The fight against it will always be a game of catch up.
    But it doesn’t particularly affect most of the riding public. So, I’m happy to leave them to it.
    Here’s a thought though – what about a reward scheme that’s bigger than prize money for team members to whistle blow on teams that are doping?

    I also don’t care, I am never going to be a decent competitor but if I can use drugs to be better than my mates next time we go out I would like the opportunity to try. So happy it isn’t illegal.

    The government constantly rejects calls to decriminalise recreational drug taking, despite the many potential benefits to society, yet won’t criminalise competitive drug taking. Not that the police would have the resources to deal with the extra work anyway.
    And as if this government would do anything to affect the commercial interests of Team Sky et al.

    If people are happy for drug use in cycling to be legal, remember that the same rules apply to all levels of the sport. That means you normalise doping for everyone, including juniors. I don’t want my sport to become something where I have to take unnecessary medication to be competitive, and where kids will be doing the same thing.

    Another agreement with kcr here.
    Leaving the danger of any given sport out of the equation if we can, surely anything that puts winning over and above the health of those involved cannot be considered a good thing? Let alone the ethics of all this.
    Bringing kids into the mix in all this as some would – it’s just not cricket.

    If what they’re doing isn’t illegal per-se (IR they’re not controlled drugs) then I don’t see why cheating should be made illegal, would you expect Plod to assign CID to investigate corner cutting at an Enduro event?

    If anyone wants to understand how sordid and dangerous the world of doping is then Thomas Dekker’s recent book ‘The Descent’ is a good place to start.

    How about dopers being given mechanical penalties, doping on a road bike, compulsory 2KG weight added to your bike. Doping in MTB, suspension travel reduced by 30mm on DH/Enduro Bikes. Cross Country and Cyclocross, lose the right to gears and freehubs, The public will know you have cheated, and your advantage will be removed. Once you are clean and have served your time, then you can get the benefit back. With the advances it testing to date, why cant everyone take a simple blood test at all levels of sport and have them checked?

    I’m out biking with a few mates this eve. Ones got a knackerd hip. Another with a knee that’s well past it’s sell by date. I desperately hopkng theyall HAVE taken all the drugs they have been issued. Otherwise its gonna be a long. Slow, painful evening. For all of us !

    I do care. Simply because it’s not all at super duper high level competitions. I know of a bloke who cheats in my local CX league and he’s just a normal bloke who has a full time job etc. the little shit. he is however robbing the person next to him of a win etc. Make it illegal and stamp it out completely. Also how pathetic is your life when you have to cheat at such a low level?

    Yeah I see it as stealing prize money from the competitor next to you, so I think it should be illegal.

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