A critique of antidoping

Previous literature has criticised the failings of anti-doping testing and policy in light of evidence of on-going drug use. This is especially pertinent for the period of 1960-1976 when, in spite of strong rhetoric, very little real action was taken. However, this section presents three alternative forms of critique. First, that antidoping was really about the exercise of power. Second, that it was an overreaction and a 'moral panic' whose underlying 'problem' was less convincing. Third, that policies had a range of negative unintended consequences.

When anti-doping was first emerging in the late 1950s it was evident that it was an authoritarian discourse advanced by elite groups in society. By the mid 1960s these factors were still in place but a further dimension of practical control had been introduced. Rules, tests and punishments would be the technologies of power. The subjects of this disciplinary regime - or anti-doping 'gaze' - were forced to agree to these procedures or risk losing their livelihood. Testing was a genuine infringement of personal space from the beginning: the sex tests on women were the worst case, but having a stranger observe the passing of urine is humiliating. Worse still, everyone was a suspect and had to prove their innocence by passing a series of tests set by the authorities. Even if they did pass, athletes who performed especially well in an event would be under suspicion of doping by the authorities and their rivals. Once it became clear that tests were fallible, almost every athlete became a potential cheat. If doping threatened the very nature of sport by the early 1970s it was not just because of drug use, but the processes by which cheating was defined, suspected and not adequately resolved. The air of suspicion was created by those in power who constructed the 'witch-hunt'.

Power rested with elite groups, especially with middle- and upper-class individuals who had previously been athletes, then went on to prestigious careers in medicine or sports administration. They wanted to fashion sport in their image: the established amateur traditional culture. The Chairman of the IOC's Medical Commission was a prince, almost every anti-doping scientist was a doctor or professor, Arthur Porritt was eventually knighted, given a peerage and made Governor-General of New Zealand. These examples show how elitist anti-doping was from the beginning. Like the Victorian rational recreationists (Holt 1992) they saw sport in idealistic terms, capable of improving the character and lifestyles of those who might descend into anarchy and degeneration. Many anti-doping experts had been former athletes: Porritt competed in the 1924 Olympics while a medical student at Oxford University then was the New Zealand team manager at the 1934 Empire Games and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Martin Lucking was an Olympic shot-putter in the 1960s. Men who grew up being inculcated into the values of sport wanted to pass that on to the next generation.

The targets for anti-doping were those who misused sport, who ruined its noble aims: professionals, communists, working classes, and any others who didn't sign up to the middle-class morality of sport. The imbalance of power and social status is striking. Athletes were not invited to policy discussions or conferences such as those held by the CoE or BASM. When they chose to speak out against anti-doping or refused to take tests they were condemned in the media and punished by their sport's authority. Anti-doping was imposed from above without consultation, dialogue or empathy - it is no wonder many athletes put so much energy into trying to cheat the system. This was an 'us versus them' oppo-sitional divide from the beginning.

The second critique about anti-doping is that it was a 'moral panic' that exaggerated the consequences of drug use in terms of both health effects and fair play. It is curious that the shift in social attitudes to amphetamines happened so quickly. In the 1940s and 1950s they were a panacea for all manner of ailments, by the 1960s they were a social tragedy. Yet, the extent of usage and the lack of clear evidence suggest the health problems associated with the drug were not all that serious. Even the cases of fatalities and serious accidents could have been explained by a range of factors including exhaustion, dehydration, overheating, lack of medical supervision, and the demands of the sport. Instead, it was drugs alone that were blamed. The testing of cycling and football that occurred in Italy and Belgium around this time showed fairly high levels of usage without any serious illnesses or deaths. The lack of medical cases of drug-related problems among American athletes between the 1950s and 1970s shows that usage could be widespread without any dire consequences. Poor judgement, addiction and hospitalisation may occur in rare examples such as that of Everton goalkeeper Albert Dunlop, but he was a heavy user and an alcoholic. The sorts of doses Mandell admitted giving American football players caused little more than extra aggressiveness. Even the anti-doping expert Max Novich (1964) recognised that the addictive effects of amphetamines for athletes had been exaggerated. And at the BASM conference on steroids in 1975, A. H. Payne told the audience that 'it is common knowledge that the dire warnings of the health hazards have been overrated. I know of one athlete who has been on steroids almost non-stop for nine years and he is a fit healthy bull, who enjoys his sex life. There are side effects, but these appear to be only minor' (1975: 87). But the argument of athlete choice was given short shrift: it was simply assumed that elite competitors could not be trusted to manage the risk appropriately. Even minor doses were made illegal and the all-encompassing legal framework set in motion.

At the same time, the argument that doping betrayed the principles of fair play was also overplayed. There are any number of ways in which sport is not a level playing field: from genetic inheritance to access to resources to psychological assistance and good coaching. In fact, the point of training and preparation is to make the playing field uneven. So the attempt to connect sportsmanship with some notion of purity and positive life force led to the oppositional idea that drugs, cheating and corruption went hand-in-hand and would result in the death of sport. Yet, as some of the pre-war writers on doping illustrated, the boundaries between stimulant drugs and other forms of enhancement were extremely blurred (B0je 1939). When does a natural substance such as oxygen, altitude or even testosterone become cheating? How is taking a chemical substance that much different from using specialised equipment, psychological counselling or team tactics? The notion that sport was about matching individuals' natural talents was already an anachronism. Modern sport was about using the available techniques to one's best advantage, not about imagining days gone by when sport existed purely for enjoyable recreation, fitness and character building. More to the point, this was a myth anyway that gets reinvented whenever powerful social groups wish to assert their values and establish greater control over troublesome subjects.

Finally in this section there is the question of unintended consequences. Anti-doping created a new universe for sport, one in which the athlete was the focus of a range of technical, legal and moral strategies. They were placed under constant supervision, scrutiny and assumed to be opportunists who would break the rules if given the scope to do so. Doping was a very serious business. Those who missed tests or dropped out of competitions where testing was to take place, were immediately assumed guilty. When a group of successful athletes appeared from a specific country, especially 'closed' communist countries, it was assumed they were on drugs. The world of sport had become tainted forever with accusations, scandal, guilt and the great witch-hunt. Yes, the greed and obsession of athletes who used drugs was partly to blame, but the overarching demands of anti-doping also contribute to this unfolding drama. In other words, the discourses of doping were not about the drugs themselves but about the ways in which anti-doping campaigners reconstructed their social meanings.

More pragmatically, testing led athletes to experiment with new drugs whose health effects and safe dosage levels were unknown. It led them to risky 'masking' techniques using substances such as diuretics or to load up on steroids and rapidly come off them a few weeks before an event. It led to the search for undetectable methods such as blood doping where blood is removed, stored and re-injected to boost red cell counts after training. All this messing about with hormonal levels and blood must have been at least as unhealthy as the taking of amphetamines and steroids were in the first place.

By the late 1970s a similar critique was developing about Western health care in general. The points raised by John Ehrenreich in his 1978 anthology which develops what he calls a 'cultural critique' of medicine in society, show parallels with the above assessment of anti-doping during this period. He distances himself from the 'political economy critique' which assumes the provision of health services per se to be admirable but searches for better ways of distributing and managing healthcare (much like the anti-doping policy discussions that assume the principles to be sound but the administration to be less than perfect):

Modern medical care, contrary to the assumptions of the more traditionally radical political economy critique, does not consist of the administration by doctors of a group of morally neutral, essentially benign and effective techniques for curing disease and reducing pain and suffering. The techniques themselves are frequently useless and all too often actually physically harmful. The 'scientific' knowledge of the doctors is sometimes not knowledge at all, but rather social messages (e.g., about the proper behaviour of women) wrapped up in technical language. And above all, both the doctor-patient relationship and the entire structure of medical services are not mere technical relationships, but social relationships which express and reinforce (often in subtle ways) the social relations of the larger society: e.g., class, racial, sexual and age hierarchy; individual isolation and passivity; and dependency on the social order itself in the resolution of both individual and social problems.

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