Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Drugs don't work - but keep taking the tablets

The Guardian has Bradley Wiggins saying: ‘I can never dope because it would cost me everything if I took drugs I would stand to lose my reputation, my livelihood, my marriage, my family, my house, my titles …’
Such statements remind me of the social bonds discussed in the self/control theories of Hirschi. Those are keeping Bradley in line. 
But the Tour de France is famous for its doping and the performance of the Sky team, for which Wiggins rides, has been compared to that of Lance Armstrong’s (leading to a rant by Wiggins).  Armstrong continues to show that even being shown to be clean brings no peace; to the doubters you must also have cheated the tests.  Franck Schleck and Remy di Gregorio (at the time of writing) are the only two riders to fail this year.
Yet I continue to watch the Tour with enjoyment: the sights, the tactics, the sheer spectacle.  Similarly I don’t think what drugs have aided the performance of the actors, singers, writers or dancers I enjoy.  My main worry for Wiggins is not that he will be tempted to dope but that given the high stakes others may seek to spike his food or drink as Schleck claims his was. 
Amongst the plethora of Olympic stories are the bold claims of LOCOG and WADA.
London 2012 will carry out an unprecedented number of tests to ensure the health and rights of the athletes, and that the integrity of the Games is upheld.
The drug testing facility to be run by GlaxoSmithKline and its associated regime is backed up by this video.  The video seeks to deny drugs yet stylistically evokes them and concludes, which is interesting for a drug company.
But let’s examine those claims: athletes health, rights and the integrity of the games.
athletes health

The occasional transgressions of professional footballers often affords us an insight into their training regimes.  They are scant compared to far-less-well-rewarded swimmers, cyclists and other athletes.  And yet all are unlikely to enjoy good health while practising their sport and retirement brings further problems.  Fitness may be good for your health but professional sport is likely to be bad.  Liz Pike notes that athletes normalize illness and injury and her two-year ethnographic study of female rowers showed that medical support for these athletes was both insufficient and inadequate.  Moreover the demands of capitalism mean that the Olympic ‘ideal’ is paid for by corporate sponsors, many in the obesity business.  Neville Rigby and Amandine Garde argue that in:
concluding long-term exclusivity agreements with iconic junk food brands, the International Olympic Committee has failed to support public health policy.
Turning to rights 
It is my experience of talking to athletes that they whole-heartedly embrace the drug and other testing regimes foisted on them.  They subscribe to the ideology of the ‘drug cheat’, perhaps for fear that, as with politicians and the ‘war on drugs’, any questioning of the policy leads to embarrassing questions about youthful ingestion/inhalation.  The Church of WADA/IOC punishes heretics.
And yet, some dare speak out.  For instance EU Athletes and UNI Global Union use a rights-based discourse to raise some challenge:
The lack of effectiveness of the present system is deeply worrying and does not justify the violation of athletes’ fundamental rights [...] Athletes need anti-doping rules that are effective and fair. The WADA Code fails on both counts and that is why we are launching our legal challenges today.
Speaking more personally and with some fervour Andy Murray complains, “I just want to enjoy a normal life without people bashing on your door at four in the morning.”  And some doctors, with the protection of the white coat of science have argued, “Far from being unfair, drugs that enhance performance actually promote equality”
As a criminologist with an interest in human rights I’m taken by the comparison with Sex Offenders Register which requires registration and notification within 3 days whereas the elite athletes have to predict months in advance where they will be and risk ‘failing’ a test if not there.
I would suggest that the compromises to athletes health and rights combined with the IOC’s supine relations with big business and corruption scandals (similar for FIFA) means that it also fails the integrity test.
and back to drugs
But just as athletes loathe the 'drug cheat' they show the same motivation and will do anything ‘legal’ to achieve an advantage, as this advert for vitamins shows. And this website on such ergogenic aids.

But fans of Ben Goldacre’s blog Bad Science will not be surprised to discover the 'Lack of evidence' that popular sports products work.  Dr Carl Heneghan of the Oxford University Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine asked the manufacturer’s of Lucozade Sport for their evidence that the drink was an "an isotonic performance fuel to take you faster, stronger, for longer"  He said the mountain of data included 101 trials that the Oxford team were able to examine before concluding: "In this case, the quality of the evidence is poor, the size of the effect is often minuscule and it certainly doesn't apply to the population at large who are buying these products.”  So in seeking to gain a legal advantage we may have been cheated.  The best cons work on our greed and gullibility.
Oh, and a final irony.  The manufacturers of Lucozade are GlaxoSmithKline who will be running the drugs lab.
However I have two weeks blocked out for the Games and will attend 3 athletics sessions, one men’s hockey, one women’s basketball, a canoe slalom (I’ve already white-water rafted the course), some water polo plus hours of TV.  The paralympics brings swimming and cycling into the frame.  I’m not even sure the games are a ‘unifying force’ but they are ‘tarnished’.  But what Spectacle isn’t?
Let’s see if I can smuggle my opinions past security.

No comments:

Post a Comment