The importance of objectivity in doping

Marathon du Mont-Blanc

The other morning I was chatting with a fellow runner about certain sporting companies and how they treated their athletes. One thing thing led to another and we ended up talking about the highly polarising topic of doping in sport. The main issues in our conversation centered around whether we can separate the action from the person, and also whether it is possible to take a completely black and white approach to the issue. I would like to highlight that although the points covered in this article are my own, the idea is to encourage debate and look at the issue objectively. Also the article is written with a focus on elite athletes, not to say that cheating is acceptable for everyone else but that is where the thrust of the conversation and subsequent article is focused.

Personally, I find it extremely hard to separate the act of doping from someone’s personality. While the person might be lovely, if your willing to take a ‘win at all costs’ mentality that involves cheating and drugs then I am not sure this is a person I want to associate myself. It goes against my principles. This is because it is not just about the doping, but rather what does the act suggest about this person’s personality in general? 

This is possibly one of the key reasons why we have such problems deterring cheats in the sport because people’s personal feelings get in the way of making an objective judgement. Now, I do not know any dopers personally and I’m not sure how I would react if I met someone close to me who had just been caught for doping, but I think it is fair to say I would be very upset and our relationship would highly likely never be the same. If we fail to take an objective approach then we personalise the issue and this often means we do not make the hard decision, in this case I believe it to be an outright ban.

This leads me to my next point about doping and cheats, which is zero sympathy for elite athletes who undertake such measures – there should be a zero tolerance policy. This might seem rather harsh but currently, it seems athletes are much more willing to take risks given they know a lifetime ban is incredibly unlikely and they are more likely to receive a slap on the wrist in comparison. An outright ban in my opinion would act as a much stronger deterrent than merely a few years or several months in some cases (a complete joke). Moreover it has been shown that the effects of doping are long lasting even after you stop taking the drugs.

There is the argument that sometimes doping is ‘unintentional or accidental’ but at the elite level where your training is monitored meticulously, you would have a pretty good idea of what your putting in your body. Plus given the sport is probably your livelihood, I would also assume you would be keeping up to date on the latest anti-doping policies, thus I often find it not satisfactory to explain your actions as ‘unintentional or accidental.’ I also understand that it can also get blurry when certain medications are required for medical conditions, and in this case I would hope the athlete has proven beyond doubt to have such conditions, rather than taking advantage of a doctor’s slip.

There have been many cases of doping in a variety of sports in recent years and more are coming out of the woodwork. Although in terms of ultra trail running there have been few cases, we all have our suspicions and in any case I think it is only a matter of time before we see a few cases bubble to the surface. This is the reality as the sport of ultra trail running grows and arguably becomes more professionalised every year.

There are of course so many other issues associated with this topic and I am merely scratching the surface. However I wanted to focus on how we deal with cheating and especially the importance of taking an objective approach to the issue. I hope this encourages further debate and hope you all enjoy some fun times on the feet this weekend wherever your running.

David Longo
David is a Canberra-based ultra runner who has also lived in Hong Kong. He races regularly both on the HK and Australian ultra scene.

One thought on “The importance of objectivity in doping

  1. There will be fewer cases of doping compared to other sports due to fewer tests in trail and fewer elites end up in the testing pool (probably the more effective way to catch doping). $ plays a big part, so with less prizemoney in trail running there will be less incentive, and financially doping is not cheap. there are more and more cases in amateur level sport these days where people with money but not the time to train are doping. in endurance sport the murky world of therapeutic use exemptions (tue) needs to be cracked down on. just look at how many athletes in some sports are asthmatics to see the abuse of the system here…

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