Maybe it’s my own lax (i.e., strongly supportive) attitude towards recreational drug consumption, or maybe it’s that I find people babbling about the “purity of sport” creepily Nazi-ish. Whatever… I’ve never been able to muster any interest in the so-called “doping scandals.” Some jumped-up Lycra clad twit wants to inject modified mouse proteins into his arse so he can ski down a hill point-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-two seconds faster? So-fucking-what? Let him. I have better things to worry about.
Still, an idiotic quantity of airtime, column inches, energy and money, is spent on a self-flagellating cycle of brow beating and breast beating. Hence I was happy to see the headline: “Would legal doping level playing field?” Happier still with the common-sense opening paragraph: “Winners of the gold medals are supposed to be natural athletes, untainted by technology…. The natural myth is still alive in Beijing, but it’s becoming far-fetched – and potentially dangerous.” Right on, brother.
Columnist John Tierney argues his case on the basis that a) testing can’t keep up with technology, so why bother and b) athletes should be allowed to assume the risks of tampering with nature (whatever the hell that actually means) if they so choose. A fine point, but unnecessarily complicated. The argument for “legal doping” is bone simple: there is no such thing as a level playing field.
C’mon. The days of barefoot Ethiopians winning Olympic marathons are long gone, lost to a world of NASA-worthy exercise apparatus, micro-nutrition and multi-million pound sponsorship deals. Giving any credence to the idea that the current state of athletics is “fair” is on par with believing in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.
Even without taking into account the genetic roulette which selects the potential superstars from the plodders, sport is hideously unfair from the get go. The children who are destined to thrive are selected at brutally young ages (to wit, Britain’s 14-year-old diving star Tom Daley). Where they live determines how it goes: in China, or the Soviet Union of yore, they’re whisked from their families and fed through rigorous sport academies. This, at least, removes an element of class-consciousness. In the ostensibly egalitarian West how far athletes progress depends on parents’ ability to pump vast sums of money into their little darling’s training, ensuring the sporting elite of the capitalist world are also the financial elite. What’s just about that?
The deeper you go, the more the unfairness piles up. Who has the best nutrition? Who has access to the latest equipment? Who can afford to fly around the world to train at the optimum altitude? Who is photogenic enough to nab the big-money ad deals which will pay for the kit which will shave those vital milliseconds off their times? Who gets injured? Who doesn’t?
In light of the fierce, absolute randomness of life – and the egregiously unequitable techniques athletes use to try to evade the chaos – quibbling over the use of quote-unquote performance enhancing drugs is absurd. Doping won’t “level the playing field” because nothing ever can. But it won’t make it any less level, either. It will simply erase a little bit of hypocrisy and hysteria, and that is always a good thing.