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Why Sport’s Zero-Tolerance Stance on Performance-Enhancing Drugs is Wrong

Anti-doping has become an arbitrary process, so why not change the rules? By Julian Savulescu –

Julian Savulescu (born 22 December 1963) is an Australian philosopher and bioethicist. He is Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Sir Louis Matheson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Monash University, and Head of the Melbourne–Oxford Stem Cell Collaboration, which is devoted to examining the ethical implications of cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Cheating is wrong. Winning by cheating is fraud.

In 1913, Eugene Christophe cheated in the Tour de France. A race vehicle crashed into him, causing his front forks to snap. Instead of repairing them by himself, he cheated by having a small boy pump the bellows for him while he melded them in the local blacksmith’s fire. He broke the rule of the time that dictated the cyclist himself had to repair his own bike.

Of course, today that is not cheating at all. When Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) was thrown into a fence by a media car during the 2011 Tour de France, his team was able to replace his broken bike. He carried on, bandaged up by race medics as he went. And this year, when Chris Froome was the victim of a race motorbike driving too close in crowded conditions, he went up to the line of current rules by running with his bike while a replacement could not reach him. He went onto win the overall race again, of course.

The values behind the original rule were reasonable: pitting one man and his machine against another, limiting the effect of wealth in providing mechanics and replacement bikes, and so on. And as every weekend warrior knows the faster the bike, the more it punctures and cracks. There is a tactical trade-off to be made.

But there is nothing wrong with the rules today either. They limit the extent to which mechanicals and incompetent race vehicles decide the race, and focus the result on the rider himself in his struggle to be the best. Those are also reasonable values, and ones which many would agree are fairer for the athlete, and more interesting for the spectator.

So why do we cling to our zero-tolerance rule for performance-enhancing drugs?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) claims that this rule embodies the spirit of sport, which it expresses as a list of values:

• Ethics, fair play and honesty

• Health

• Excellence in performance

• Character and education

• Fun and joy

• Teamwork

• Dedication and commitment

• Respect for rules and laws

• Respect for self and other participants

• Courage

• Community and solidarity

But instead, the rule has led to intrusive and prurient invasion into athletes’ bodies and lives, with humiliating testing protocols and leaked medical data. It has led to widespread mistrust and scapegoating: when the rules on meldonium changed at the beginning of the year, Maria Sharapova was infamously caught out for using it, but WADA allowed an amnesty for lower doses after 172 athletes tested positive for the drug.

Rules are frequently enforced patchily because applying them systematically and thoroughly would be unaffordable. One estimate put the figure at $30,000-40,000 AUD ($22,440-29,920) per athlete per year. Testing labs have often appeared incompetent, with Rio, Beijing and Doha labs all recently suspended. Recent reports into Russia proved what we all knew: that there is no level playing field in testing worldwide. Some athletes know they will not be caught by their agency, others take the wrong over-the-counter supplement and get pilloried.

I have argued for a new set of rules, based on a new set of values. Those values are athlete safety, and maintenance of the human test. By this I mean that we should ban substances that are risky to athletes, and which mean that the resulting performance significantly loses its human element. This might depend on the sport: a beta blocker might be inappropriate for an archery competition where nerves of steel are part of the test but fine for a weightlifter who gets a little nervous in large crowds. It might also limit the extent of doping rather than the type. If a cyclist improves his blood values by altitude training or by the drug EPO, the outcome is the same, as long as it does not go too far (beyond normal physiological limits) and become dangerous or super-human. We could then focus our limited resources on values that matter.

The rules of sport are designed to protect the athlete and to build a structure within which we can have some confidence of a deserving winner, whose talents in a certain area have been tested against the others.

They will always be somewhat arbitrary: on December 31 2015, when Sharapova took her meldonium, it was legal. The next day it was not. Australian modern pentathlete Alex Watson was banned for taking caffeine, whereas Chris Hoy brought his own coffee machine to the London Olympics.

But if we created an independent body, with a smaller, tighter remit to prevent doping that went beyond the natural physiological limits, or otherwise risked athletes’ health, we would be providing athletes with a framework they can build on instead of a martyrs’ pyre.

Julian Savulescu is uehiro chair in practical ethics, University of Oxford.

Steroids grow in popularity in New Zealand

New Zealand men are taking steroids in growing numbers to get the perfect body.

“These are generally males 20 to 40 who are wanting to look good, rather than elite athletes looking for edge in performance,” Dr Emma Lawrey told the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, in Queenstown on Monday.

Dr Lawrey says the seizure of such drugs coming into New Zealand has increased five-fold since 2008.

“Over the last two years we’ve seen hundreds of packages of performance enhancing drugs picked up annually, over half of which are androgenic anabolic steroids.”

Steroid users increase their risk of heart attack, upper limb tendon rupture and liver.

A recent survey of male gym-goers in Kuwait found 70 percent didn’t believe it was possible to get a good body without using steroids.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed were able to accurately describe the adverse effects of steroid use.

Steroid use on the rise in New Zealand

A New Zealand study showed five out of 32 bodybuilders admitted to using anabolic steroids at some point, and in another New Zealand study of 142 elite-level high school rugby players, only five admitted to use.

However, one in five felt they were at risk to using at some point in their career, she said.


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Maria Sharapova failed test because of meldonium

Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and the world’s highest-paid female athlete, announced Monday that she had tested positive for the recently banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open.

Sharapova, said she started taking the substance in 2006 for magnesium deficiency and irregular EKG results, while also citing a family history of diabetes.

“It made me healthy, that’s why I continued to take it,” she said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency discovered early in 2015 that an alarming number of athletes were using meldonium, a sign that athletes could be misusing a drug for non-medical purposes. Given the substance’s performance-enhancing effects, WADA added meldonium to its watch list of performance-enhancing drugs for 2015. The organization subsequently decided to ban it as of Jan. 1, 2016.

Maria Sharapova

Meldonium is not FDA approved and is therefore not available in the United States. It is mainly used in Russia and Eastern European countries.

Mildronate is the leading agent of the cardiovascular group, antiischemic agent of a metabolic action:

  • Acts as antiischemic cell protector in patients with angina pectoris, chronic heart failure, brain circulation disorders
  • Improves physical capacity and mental function in the case of ischemia and in healthy people

Meldonium also helps increase an athlete’s endurance, protects against stress, improves an athlete’s recovery time after exercise and enhances certain activations of central nervous system functions. That means meldonium can be used to enhance performance.

Japan is considering introducing an anti-doping law as the country gears up for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Hiroshi Hase, Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, said a law against doping was “necessary legislation” as Japan seeks to curb drug abuse by athletes at the Tokyo Games.

“Japan needs to introduce measures dedicated to anti-doping such as educating the public and athletes,” Hase told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

“And we need to be able to deal with the issue based on law,” he said.

His comments come after the IAAF, track and field’s world governing body, voted to suspend Russia’s athletics federation in November, following the publication of a World Anti-Doping Agency report that alleged “state-sponsored” drug use.

“We need to increase the integrity of sport by cooperating with the International Olympic Committee. Doping is absolutely wrong,” Hase said.

According to Jiji Press, the ministry will soon set up a panel to discuss details of the legislation, such as penalties.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Arsene Wenger believes doping is common in football

We were writing about UEFA lying about doping in football, Arsene Wenger, current manager of Arsenal, agrees with us.

Arsène Wenger has again voiced his concern that it is a serious issue in football, saying in an interview with L’Equipe that he has “played against many teams” that use performance-enhancing drugs.

In September his Arsenal side lost 2-1 at Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, with the Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi, who played the full 90 minutes, failing a drug test after the game. “When I saw that the players of Zagreb were doped – well, when you don’t play at your best and your opponent is doped, it is difficult,” he said last month.

Arsene Wenger

“I try to be faithful to the values that I believe to be important in life and to pass them on to others,” Wenger told L’Equipe. “In 30 years as a manager I’ve never had my players injected to make them better. I never gave them any product that would help enhance their performance. I’m proud of that. I’ve played against many teams that weren’t in that frame of mind.

“For me, the beauty of sport is that everyone wants to win, but there will only be one winner. We have reached an era in which we glorify the winner, without looking at the means or the method. And 10 years later we realize the guy was a cheat. And during that time, the one that came second suffered. He didn’t get recognition. And, with all that’s been said about them, they can be very unhappy.”

Two years ago Wenger said that sport was “full of legends who are in fact cheats” as he called on Uefa to improve its drug testing programme. “Honestly, I don’t think we do enough [on doping tests],” he said. “It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players at the World Cup and you come out with zero problems. Mathematically, that happens every time. But statistically, even for social drugs, it looks like we would do better to go deeper.

“I hope England is immune from doping but I don’t know. When you have a doping control at Uefa [matches], they do not take blood, they take only urine. I have asked many times in Geneva [for that to be changed]. I hope we do not have a big problem with doping but we have to try to find out.”

Wenger was embroiled in a doping controversy of his own in 2011, when the former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson told the French magazine So Foot that “on the night before big games we would go to a Holiday Inn in Islington where a yellowy product was injected into our arm. I never asked any questions. From the moment you trust a manager you take everything he asks you to.”

At the time an Arsenal spokesman said the substance was a “simple multivitamin injection”, while Wenger angrily denied the story, saying: “If you find one player who I asked to take an injection to play one game, no matter how big the game was, I would resign tomorrow morning.”

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Method actor Ben Foster admits taking steroids while filming Lance Armstrong biopic

Ben Foster did anabolic steroids in his preparations to play the disgraced cyclist in the upcoming film The Program.

The film is based on Walsh’s book “Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong”.

Ben Foster’s take on Armstrong, who declined his request for a meeting, is complicated. “On one hand, he’s a lying doper who tricked the world. On the other, he’s a young man who faced cancer. It changes you. And when you go to war it changes you. That’s what Lance Armstrong did – he went to war with his body. That shifts your consciousness.

“He started training within a culture that was doping: you’d have to go down 18 riders to find a clean one. He survives death, the story catches fire and he recognises that.

“He’s a smart man. He says, ‘I can do some good with this.’ He raised half a billion for cancer research. We just don’t like him because he was Jesus Christ on a bicycle. We’re mad he came back from the dead, saved the sick and then turned out to be full of shit. And we’re punishing him because he didn’t apologise in the way we’d like. Americans love a good apology. He wouldn’t do that.”

A cautious admiration emerges when Foster discusses Armstrong. “Belief and will got him through, not dope,” he insists. “Dope certainly helped. Had he not been doping he wouldn’t have won. But his greatest attribute is his ability to believe he’s a winner.”

He makes the connection to his own profession before I can. “That righteousness, that self-belief, could be considered akin to acting. The best acting. It’s not lying, it’s belief.”

Ben Foster on playing Lance Armstrong in The Guardian.

Lance Armstrong vs Ben Foster

Doping in football – 50 years of evidence

An interesting article on doping in football by Football’s dark side –

The one doping case in which high profile players actually tested positive for doping use is the nandrolone affair of 2001 and 2002. Within a short period of time, several players were caught having used the anabolic steroid nandrolone, including world class players such as Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer, Christophe Dugarry, Fernando Couto and Josep Guardiola. Of course, they blamed it on ‘contaminated supplements’. In an added twist, Guardiola’s doctor at his then club Brescia, Ramon Segura, worked as head doctor for FC Barcelona during Pep’s reign at the club.

Lionel Messi - HGH

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Lance Armstrong Says Government Should Have Known He Was Doping

Lance Armstrong suggests that the government was more than willing to overlook doping on the U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team out of its own self-interest. It apparently didn’t matter so much that Armstrong and his teammates used anabolic steroids such as testosterone and blood-boosting drugs such as erythropoietin (EPO). USPS was receiving enormous favorable publicity. And that’s all that mattered according to a recent motion filed by the attorneys for the disgraced cyclist.

Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France and became one of the most celebrated professional athletes in the United States. But that was before the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) pressured his teammates to rat out Armstrong and provide sworn testimony against Armstrong.

In a ‘reasoned decision” approaching 200 pages, and accompanied by over 1,000 in supporting documentation and affidavits, USADA produced overwhelming evidence that PEDs such as EPO and steroids were rampant on the USPS pro cycling team. In exchange for testifying against Armstrong, his teammates were given reduced bans of six months. Meanwhile, Armstrong was given a lifetime ban from competing in professional cycling (and any other sport that has adopted the anti-doping code published by the World Anti-Doping Agency).

But that was only the beginning of Armstrong’s problems. Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for using steroids, filed a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the federal government alleging that Armstrong defrauded the government when he used PEDs in violation of his USPS contract.

The federal government enjoined Landis’ lawsuit putting the full resources of the government behind the effort to sue Armstrong. Armstrong has an estimated net worth of approximately $150 million dollars earned during the course of his professional career. However, the Landis-government lawsuit is seeking as much as $120 million dollars. Landis could receive 25 percent of any amout recovered.

In court documents filed in relation to the lawsuit, Armstrong argued that the government should have known that he was doping. There had been extensive media coverage throughout his career about allegations of doping. But in spite of the media reports of doping at USPS pro cycling team, the USPS renewed its contract rather than ask question about doping and/or otherwise investigate the allegations.

“Instead, the Postal Service renewed the Sponsorship Agreement and basked in the favorable publicity of its sponsorship. It is now far too late for the government to revisit its choice to reap the benefits of sponsorship rather than investigate allegations of doping.”

Furthermore, Armstrong’s attorneys argue that Landis should not be entitled to receive any damages as part of the lawsuits. After all, Landis was involved in the very same doping behavior that Armstrong participated in.

“The government wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure, and acclaim that goes along with being a sponsor. It got exactly what it bargained for.”

Armstrong was asked once against about the doping in cycling during his time as a competitors. He repeated the refrain that he didn’t do anything that wasn’t already commonplace in the sport. Contrary to claims by USADA that the USPS was the “most sophisticated” doping program in the history of sport, Armstrong says he was just doing what everyone else was doing.

“It wasn’t a pretty time (in professional cycling). I didn’t invent it and I didn’t end it,” Armstrong said. “My bad for playing along.”


McCann, J. (July 25, 2013). US Postal should have KNOWN I was doping says Lance Armstrong as he fights back against multi-million dollar lawsuit. Retrieved from