Athletes getting a little high sometimes doesn’t make them drug cheats


he zeitgeist appears to be towards facing the world as it is rather than we wish it to be so it’s likely sport will eventually have to acknowledge that penalising recreational substance use the same as performance enhancing drugs is dodging reality.

There’s a danger in discussing recreational drugs such as cocaine and marijuana of appearing way too-cool-for-school. This stuff might be everywhere but it is also illegal. They can contribute towards immense misery. At the very least no one pretends such drug use is good for your health.

In contrast other substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list are completely legal on prescription. Used properly they can be entirely positive. It’s only their misuse which has reduced much of sport to a maelstrom of deceit and suspicion and a lot of credibility to rubble.

Only very rarely though does that result in the law appearing on the doorstep. Whereas there’s a reason your stoner pal with the dodgy mate prefers to operate furtively. But only if you live on a cloud can you credibly argue they’re the same in terms of cheating.

Sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum anymore than anything else. But it’s great virtue is that it provides an environment where fairness is a goal rather than a political punch-line. So anyone can recognise when the ethical line gets crossed.

It’s why the captain of the Peruvian football team Paulo Guerrero had backing from the captains of the three other countries in Peru’s World Cup group when he was cleared last week to play at the tournament despite a 14-month ban for a positive cocaine test.

Whatever you think about Guerrero’s explanation that he accidentally ingested cocaine in a tea, the idea of him being banned for over a year for essentially cheating himself is ridiculous when you compare it to how so many get away with cheating others.

Park the legalities for a moment and ask yourself if anyone can really believe getting high is going to make you go higher, faster or stronger? And yes there is a gag in there. But you know what I mean. Everyone knows, yet it isn’t acknowledged.

People take recreational drugs no matter what the law says. Athletes are no different. But that doesn’t make them drug-cheats. We know what real drug cheats look like. Penalising both the same is ducking reality.

That’s not to say blanket bans should be replaced by a free-for-all. But greater discretion when it comes to sanctions is only common sense.

Too dangerous

Last October three jockeys tested positive for cocaine at a race meeting in Galway. They were just the latest in a number of bans handed out to jockeys in Ireland for cocaine use. In contrast it been years since a rider tested positive for alcohol here.

It’s completely appropriate for racing’s authorities to come down hard on positive drug or alcohol tests. The nature of the game is too dangerous for it to be otherwise. The same applies to other sports such as motor racing because that’s not only cheating yourself but threatening others.

However a sense of both proportion and perspective needs to be applied where there is little or no evidence to suggest recreational drugs enhance athletic performance or can potentially harm others.

Staying relaxed under competitive pressure is one thing. But there’s relaxed and there’s baked. Smoking dope slows down reaction time. In what kind of sporting arena is that a plus?

Ecstasy isn’t going to help towards a new ‘PB.’ And the idea of cocaine providing in-competition athletic benefits similar to steroids is absurd. Privately drug testers acknowledge it’s of no benefit to anyone in terms of boosting performance.

Generating a sense of ‘us and them’ can help a dressing-room. Paranoia doesn’t.

No one’s cheerleading the use of most of these drugs. They are an ugly blight when they take charge of people. So is alcohol. Tobacco’s hardly harmless either. But no one pretends running a half-marathon half-pissed is the same as injecting hormones when it comes to cheating.

WADA and other anti-drug agencies would be better served putting their energy and resources into fighting the scourge of actual PED’s. Sports administrators would also be better off relinquishing any dubious political aspirations towards moral guardianship in relation to recreational drugs.

Political gesture

Most don’t enhance performance so their presence alongside actual PED’s on the banned list is really a political gesture. It comes under the wide catch-all net of being against the spirit of sport even though that spirit has been battered to a pulp by real cheats for decades.

It’s a reworking of the tiresome role-model bit, that childish piece of wishful thinking only adults can pretend to believe in, where because someone can fling a javelin over 100 metres, or can pick a pass, they supposedly assume a role in setting the rest of us example to live our lives by.

That sporting bodies can continue to pay lip service to this despite abundant evidence as to how such presumption presumes way too much really does reflect a desire to see the world as it should be rather than it is

In fact it’s interesting to ponder if the current unease felt by many GAA players about drug-testing at home has less to do with fears of testing positive for steroids than for getting busted for sparking up a sneaky smoke when coach isn’t looking.

As things stand that’ll get the ‘drug-cheat’ label stuck to you. And that’s just stupid. Because getting a little ‘Cheech & Chong’ sometimes isn’t cheating. The only one cheated in those circumstances is the athlete themselves.

And any anti-doping system so inflexible it can’t recognise that really is out of it.

By: Brian O’Connor, Irish Times