Heroes and villains

Perhaps it is inevitable that most of the research and writing in this area is devoted to finding solutions to the 'problem' of doping. The unquestioned beliefs underpinning this approach are that sport should be about fair play, that all drugs are a form of cheating, and that athletes will be physically and morally damaged by drugs. This is the traditional, standard orthodoxy on anti-doping. It has led to a certain fashion for looking back through history to distinguish between heroes and villains. Much of the doping debate takes place in public forums as the popular media tends to try and work out who was 'guilty'. The on-going arguments about whether the American athletes Florence Griffith-Joyner and Carl Lewis used steroids illustrate this point (see Denham 1999, 2000, 2004). High profile accusations have been made about Linford Christie, Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones in the past couple of years. Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, we see that the GDR and USSR systems are consistently assumed to have been based on comprehensive doping (Ungerleider 2001). And the sudden rise of successful Chinese swimmers and runners in the 1990s was implicitly linked by some to illicit drug use. Such cases show how embedded the ethics of doping have become in global sports cultures and how many writers assume the simple good or bad model can and should be applied.

The sports philosopher Mike MacNamee (cited in BBC 2005a) has described the anti-doping movement as 'heroic' not least given the constant struggle to control new drugs and techniques. No one, as far as I am aware, has described a drug-using athlete1 as 'heroic'. Instead this is a drama of straightforward characters, almost like a comic-book of 'good' crusaders up against dastardly 'evil' villains. This point is captured in one prominent visual example. When the Sports Council in Britain had a conference on doping in 1986, the front cover of the proceedings had the Biblical story of David and Goliath with the former looking up nervously at his enemy and saying, 'The only thing that niggles at the back of my mind is if God is on our side, why did he give them the anabolic steroids' (Sports Council 1986). Only two years later, the Ben Johnson episode at the 1988 Soeul Olympics showed that someone who was regarded as a great hero one day, praised for running the most incredible 100 metres and being the fastest man in history, could suddenly be vilified. At the time, the highly reputed British coach, Ron Pickering said, 'Good should never give way to evil, and this is evil that is being exposed' (cited in BBC 2005b).

While such examples lie outwith the timeframe of this book, they do offer a valuable insight into the self-belief of sports doctors and policy makers working on promoting anti-doping that they were doing 'good' work and that anyone who took drugs was 'evil'. The Sports Council cartoon image reflected and reinforced a highly influential linguistic change that occurred in the early 1960s and which has come to structure academic and public representations of the doping/anti-doping dichotomy ever since. Before the early 1960s there had been no great public scandal relating to drug use and there were no sustained campaigns against it. There was in fact a comparatively balanced discussion in some media about what value certain drugs might have for athletes. Many experts were unsure if drugs were capable of enhancing performance or if they had any significant health effects, either positive or negative. Moreover, official institutions had promoted research into stimulant drugs that might be used in sport ever since the first experiments on coca in the 1870s. Even by the 1940s and 1950s, universities and governments worked together to discover if amphetamines were useful in warfare, work and in sport. Ivan Waddington (2000) is correct to question the social construction of the idea that doping was an evil. Therefore, this heroes and villains caricature is based on a poor understanding of history.

A number of powerful social myths have been associated with this caricature. Western media and sports organisations have been quick to point out the doping-related excesses of communist countries, especially the GDR and USSR. This association of drugs with exploitative totalitarian regimes has a predecessor in claims that the Nazis developed amphetamines and steroids in the 1930s and 1940s, and that Hitler ensured German athletes had access to doping drugs for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. They seem to fit with other accusations about inhumane experiments conducted in prisoner of war camps by the Nazis, as well as fitting with simplistic stereotypes of totalitarian regimes (Dimeo 2006).

Such myths are also pinned to the notion that athletes take drugs because of one of the following reasons: they are forced to; they are given them without being told; the promise of wealth and social status; they are loyal to their country. These constructions present doping as a consequence of nationalism, commerce and/or professionalism. Drugs were, in this paradigm, intimately bound up with other elements that have supposedly ruined sport's innate values. Doping was (and still is) seen as a pathology, a disease, and has been described as a 'scourge', a 'plague', a 'cancer' as well as 'evil'. The usual assumption had tended to be that drugs were introduced by 'evil' regimes bent on exploiting international sport to promote political ideology, who took a callous approach to the health of their citizens. Dr John Zeigler, renowned as the sports medic who developed steroids for American athletes in the mid 1950s, claimed that a 'Russian Doctor I befriended told me that in his country an individual is worth absolutely nothing' (1984: 2). This sort of ideology has informed much discussion of doping and indeed Zeigler wrote this for one of the most famous books on the subject by Bob Goldman et al. Death in the Locker Room (1984).

The historical details and case studies presented in this book will show that attitudes towards performance aids and willingness to experiment with new techniques and substances have been a feature of modern sport since the late nineteenth century. The fact that 'new' drugs such as amphetamines and steroids arrived in the mid twentieth century only helped develop an aspect of sport - the search for performance-enhancing aids - that had been evident in various countries for several decades. It is highly misleading to present some countries as 'innocent' and some as 'guilty'. Or indeed to assume that it was just the 'modern' pressures of international elite sport that led to doping that made athletes use whatever science and the pharmaceutical industry was making available to them.

In fact, it could be claimed that instead of doping increasing because of available substances, the demand for such drugs by athletes was part of the social history of this scientific knowledge. Science does not exist in a social vacuum as simply nature revealing herself through the insight and labours of researchers. As the historians of science, Peter Bowler and Iwan Morus write:

science is a human activity, not an automated process that could be done equally well by a giant computer. Philosophical commitments, religious beliefs, political values, and professional interests have all helped to shape the way scientists have constructed and promoted their models of the world.

The heroes and villains are harder to separate in the history of doping science. Amphetamines were used as much by Allied forces in the Second World War as by their Axis enemies. Steroids were being experimented with in the USA by the 1930s and 1940s. Usage of steroids was not seen as problematic by Dr John Zeigler, the American weightlifting coach who helped develop the steroid Dianabol with the pharmaceutical company CIBA in the mid 1950s. Around the same time, the legendary 'hero' Roger Bannister who would help lead anti-doping in Britain in the 1970s experimented with extra oxygen inhalation for his mile runs. And throughout the post-war period those professional cyclists who used amphetamines and other drugs for their arduous races remained favourites with the fans who empathised with their need for artificial enhancements.

Heroes sometimes need to be recast as villains and vice versa. There is a much greater ambivalence to this history than the dichotomy of good and evil allows. Even the ostensibly 'good' side needs to be carefully analysed. Anti-doping cannot simply be imagined as a 'crusade' of heroes fighting selflessly to protect sport and the watching public. Again, the roles and attitudes of scientists as with policy makers need to be set in context. Anti-doping had its flaws - ideological, political, scientific and pragmatic. Individuals were motivated by their subjective opinions as well as opportunities for career advancement. It was not always an especially coherent movement. But we can say that there was radical change that occurred with the rise in anti-doping in the early 1960s, as campaigners collected their efforts, constructed a language to support these efforts, and developed the scientific, bureaucratic and legalistic mechanisms. This is a process that has been ignored in the historiography of sport and of medicine.

A central feature of this book is to developing a better understanding of the shift from the (at least, partial) legitimacy of doping to the 'official' consensus by the late 1960s that all doping was wrong. It does not assume that all drug takers are evil and all anti-doping campaigners good. Instead, the argument will be developed that anti-doping was about social power and was based on very specific Eurocentric, pseudo-religious morality linked with a romantic idealism about the function of sport in society. This took aim at the extreme end of unethical behaviour while a small minority argued (to little avail) that the problems lay not with a deviant fringe element but with the very logic at the heart of sport itself.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Drug Free Life

Drug Free Life

How To Beat Drugs And Be On Your Way To Full Recovery. In this book, you will learn all about: Background Info On Drugs, Psychological Treatments Statistics, Rehab, Hypnosis and Much MORE.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment