Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Tour de France and Drugs

So the Tour de France is having some serious drug problems. I imagine that there are perhaps ten other people in North America who care. Which is too bad because the Tour de France is perhaps the most gruelling sporting event on the planet. Anyone who thinks that that competitive cycling is easy simply has no credibility in my book. Competitive cycling, like most sports, has rampant abuse of steroids and other drugs. And this year the Tour organizers decided that they are going to take a hard line against anyone who is caught doping. They have already disqualified several riders, including Michael Rasmussen. If you don't know who he is you really have no right calling yourself a sports fan. Even if you are not a big cycling fan Rasmussen is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. For him to be caught doping is a very big deal.

So, the Tour de France is having some serious drug problems. What is to be done about it. To start with the doping charges have cast a pretty long shadow over this year's race. How much does the race mean if some of the best cyclists in the world are disqualified? Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about athletes doping. It is, at some level, an admission of defeat, but it is also an acceptance of reality. Drugs are already a Neddy-No-No amongst sports regulators, and many athletes simply don't care. If anything, the use of performance enhancing substances is increasing. Allowing their use would simply be accepting the world as it really is. Athletes have always gone to extremes to gain a competitive edge. Runners are known to breathe pure oxygen before races. Some have gone as far as having blood transfusions when running at high altitude to increase the oxygen content in their blood. Special diets (of every imaginable type) are common amongst athletes. Vitamins and dietary supplements are widely used. Where does one draw the line between a legal and illegal substance?

Sooner or later the sporting community is going to have to have to deal with this issue. The current policy of zero tolerance, inspired largely by America's idiotic (and disastrous) war on drugs,  is not working. Let's replace it with a use at your own risk policy.  This is not an ideal solution, but would it be any worse than the mess that we are in now?

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