How bad is the problem of doping in sport?

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27 September
18:04
September
2016

I think there will never be a day where we’re not talking about drugs in sport. You will never eradicate it. But although suspicion has never been greater, I believe it’s harder to cheat by doping these days. There’s more attention on the issue and the testing has improved, even if it is far from perfect. Today, doping requires greater organisation, greater secrecy, greater sophistication.

The discussion is also changing and widening. The recent controversy over the hacked TUEs [therapeutic use exemptions] raised questions about ethics – can somebody be cheating even if what they are doing is within the rules? And what do we mean by ‘clean’, anyway, if athletes are being allowed to use medications that would otherwise be banned?

In all of this we have to bear in mind that WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency] is only 15 years old and very much a work in progress. It didn’t exist in the 90s, the Wild West of EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone and blood transfusions. I think these days it would be very hard for someone to cheat to the level of Lance Armstrong – then again, I thought state-organised doping was also a thing of the past, until the recent Russian scandal.

There was a period around 2008, when the gap between the testers and cheats seemed to close. WADA developed a series of tests for different drugs and didn’t tell the athletes. A lot of cyclists were busted and it was a real game changer in the sport. It helped lead, I think, to cultural change within the sport. But some will say – particularly in light of the TUEs hack – that the culture changed from systematic doping using heavy duty products and blood doping to what some might call ‘legal doping’ using permitted medicines. To some extent that’s a matter of interpretation, or individual conscience. Some will argue that if it’s not banned, it’s OK.

If the hacking of WADA’s databases by the Fancy Bears [the group of hackers, believed to be Russian] demonstrates anything, it is that secrets are a thing of the past. If athletes are doing anything dodgy, they should assume it’ll come out sooner or later.

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