by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: FTremblay@liberator.net) [October 8th, 2000]
The Olympics, as you know, are a momentous event. Every two years, we can watch the greatest athletes in the world perform their sport with the utmost energy. It is a wonderful occasion to discover sports which we might not be used to see in our part of the world. Personally I have gained a new appreciation of such disparate sports as speed walking, volleyball, and judo.
However, my personal enjoyment of the Olympics was marred by two great annoyances. No, not commercialism and drugs -- in fact, rather the contrary. My great annoyance was mainly due to the repeated attacks on commercialism and drug use that the media have used to sway us.
“How does not taking drugs make one person have equal chances against another?”
The anti-drug rhetoric has been particularly heated during the Games -- especially after the US cover-up. Not only that, but somebody's been lying to us: while television transmissions from Sydney constantly claimed a record number of more than thirty drug positives (on Radio-Canada, anyway), news stories from Reuters claim only seven drug positives, which is less than most recent summer Olympics. I couldn't help finding that odd -- someone has been lying to us. But at any rate, the number of drug positives is not as important as the problem of why we are trying to detect them in the first place.
Why this unanimity and fervor in condemning drug use for competitive purposes? It is difficult to discern the claimed reasons, but the two excuses ostensibly used are usually purity (or natural performance) and equality of chances.
Unfortunately they are both unworthy of respect. Saying that something is "not natural" is an easy cop-out for people who don't want to admit that they experience a strong or instinctual repulsion for something. The same thing is true for drugs -- because their effects and the image associated with them are usually negative, we experience repulsion for drug users. However there is no such thing as "purity" or "natural" except that which we subjectively accept as such.
The same thing is true for equality. How does not taking drugs make one person have equal chances against another? It is a mystery. Quality and quantity of training, as well as genetic predispositions, are much more important to athletic attributes than drugs. Therefore, why stop there? Why shouldn't we impose the exact same regimen of exercise to everyone? At this rate, why not just clone one athlete from each discipline and put them in vats? That way each country can get an equal chance of winning any given event!
As you can see, the idea of "equality" is ridiculous. As you may have noticed, it is a very collectivist attitude, and is used (for example, in Canada) to promote greater governmental encroachment in sports, as if it wasn't bad enough already. The idea that the Olympics are a matter of life and death, and of such an importance that we must control it, is also ridiculous, but I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader.
The anti-drug craze, whipped to a frenzy by the media, has reached ludicrous proportions. The Olympic tradition would be much better served by trying to eliminate corruption in its administrative apparatus, rather than persecuting athletes who trade their livelihood (and possibly their very participation to the Olympics) for a chance to win a medal. They are the true unsung heroes.
Consider that the Harvard Science Review points out that the side effects of anabolic steroids (the most mediatized drug used at the Olympics) include the following :
- Liver toxicity: jaundice, hepatic cholestasis, liver tumors, fatal liver failure.
- Brain problems: high blood pressure, stress, and more serious neurological problems including, but not limited to, extreme aggressiveness, delusion, paranoia, brain cancer.
- Reproductive and endocrine systems: alteration of the sex drive, acne, increased facial and body hair, impotence. Also, for males, priapism (persistent and painful erection), prostate enlargement, gynecomastia (development of breastlike tissue).
- Addiction: steroids have been shown to be highly addictive.
- Prolonged steroid use can also lead to changes in the mechanism of blood clotting and glucose metabolism.
All this for a little piece of metal and, depending on the discipline, a couple million bucks in television ads! Crusading against such a sacrifice for success is rather odd for a people which, as a whole, is so fond of sacrificing other people for causes they like. Should not taking drugs be considered a high sacrifice in such a mentality? It seems difficult to understand.
What, therefore, could be the real reasons for the anti-drug craze? I have already discussed the mentality behind the antitrust legislation proponents. Perhaps there is a fear that drugs may boost performance so much that the best "risk-takers" will get apart from the pack, especially as drugs will get more and more potent. We see that attitude in professional sports too, to a certain extent.
There is also the fact that athletes are considered celebrities, and therefore models of behaviour. This obsession with sports may come from the lack of models from real life, coupled with our hatred of economical and intellectual success. I don't doubt that an entire sociological analysis could be done on this basis.
This is, unfortunately, a problem which the media and people in general do not wish or cannot spell out, and therefore the motivations for such attacks remain obscure. All we can do is hope that tolerance will eventually help put an end this insanity.
WADA: World Anti-Doping Agency Australian Sports Commission: Drug Testing: The Facts Official Olympics Site: The Olympics CBS: Olympic Coverage ESPN: Olympic Coverage FOX: Olympic Coverage NBC: Olympic Coverage USA Today: Olympic Coverage
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