You come here to OBM, you come because you have a brain, because you can see the problems in baseball (and other sports), the arguments that are treated like political chips instead of human issues; you see the delicacy missing in the way we talk about and look at life, sports, morality. You know me, I’m pretty much a libertarian, highly critical of most everything (to the point of being called a bastion of negativity); but for the most part, I like to think I’m open-minded.
On the issue of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s), I have made it pretty clear: I think that efforts to rid the game (any game) of PED’s are a waste of time, a slippery slope of mis-applied morality and thoughtless application of poorly thought out legal interpretations. Today’s WADA story in the NY Times was inevitable, and only one step in a continuum of an increasingly absurd understanding of athletic endeavor:
…. Three of the top United States cyclists in this year’s Tour de France use a special method to enhance their performance, and it is legal. They sleep in altitude tents or altitude rooms that simulate the low-oxygen conditions of high altitude. This prompts the body to make more oxygen-carrying red blood cells and can lead to improved endurance.
…. But soon, the altitude tents and rooms may be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. The agency’s ethics panel recently determined that the tents and rooms violated “the spirit of sport.”
…. The decision on whether to ban hypoxic devices has taken many athletes and exercise physiologists by surprise, but the antidoping agency has quietly spent the past few years considering the issue, said Dr. Bengt Saltin, director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. Saltin was a member of the agency’s health medicine and research committee until two years ago.
“We have discussed the issue a lot,” he said.
In Saltin’s opinion, the altitude tents and rooms are no different from going to “a suitable mountain area,” only cheaper. Banning the altitude tents or rooms, he said, “should not be on the WADA or International Olympic Committee’s priority list.”
That is also the view of the 76 scientists and bioethicists who recently signed a letter to the World Anti-Doping Agency expressing “grave concern” over the proposal to ban the tents and rooms.
The letter’s lead author was Dr. Benjamin D. Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Presbyterian Hospital and a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, both in Dallas. He said the antidoping agency was starting down a perilous path.
“This is a pretty slippery slope,” he said. “WADA is going to lose their credibility with the scientific community, upon whom they depend to further their mission, by pursuing this. And how to enforce it is a whole different question.”
…. Dr. Thomas Murray (on WADA’s ethics advisory panel) said he knew the issue was fraught, and he welcomed debate.
“Lines can be very difficult to draw, there is no question about it,” he said. But if there are no lines, he added, “whatever you like about the sport will disappear.”
He added, “This is a healthy conversation to be having.”
The first fun fact in that story is the surprise that WADA has “quietly spent the past few years studying the issue.” Realizing that these “great protectors” have been sitting around worrying about the advantage gained by an athlete who simulates living at high altitude is enough to make George Orwell shudder in his grave.
As for Murray’s faith that this is a “healthy conversation,” well, no, it’s not. A healthy conversation is one in which two parties engage in a spirited debate over a position or course of action, knowing in advance that they are both integral to the decision. That is hardly an accurate description of WADA, which has destroyed careers in it’s arbitrary and virtually unchallenged use of authority.
When a governing body such as WADA decides that it’s not enough that they get to demand that athletes pee in a cup, right in front of them, now they also want to demand that athletes are subject to a house search, and need to be monitored while they sleep; that, my friends, is a nightmare.
And always remember, if PED’s like steroids and human growth hormone were not demonized, if the risks involved in the use of them weren’t so ridiculously over blown and exaggerated, there wouldn’t be a WADA. All of this “controversy” revolves around the idea that it’s unfair to allow athletes willing to use “risky” methods to succeed, and likely dominate athletes who are “scared” to take such “risks.” No risk, no WADA. Keep that in mind as you read about issues like this, in which it sometimes appears that WADA is just making shit up to keep itself important.
Now WADA wants us to know that they are invested in protecting the “spirit of sport” whatever that is. Yeah, sure.
There is no “line” to be worried about. They can do whatever they will. It is inevitable that science will always be ahead of the “great protectors,” and one day, they’ll see that the fight is over, they have lost, and it hardly matters at all.
In the meantime, if you don’t live 5,000 feet above sea level, you’d better think about a retiring those sneakers.