Phew! Let’s face it. This year has been a rough one for the professional sporting world. That includes the sports, the players, the governing bodies and even the fans. From Maria’s shocking confession, to the Russian Olympic debacle and finally to this recent WADA leak, its been quite the roller coaster. It doesn’t look like it’ll let up anytime soon either.
The latest WADA controversy, throws light on some of the murkier rules governing the use or disuse of banned performance enhancers. I have chosen my words carefully here. The operative phrase is banned performance enhancers. I say this because the classification of substances as “performance enhancing” has never been particularly straightforward. If anabolic steroids are banned, why not ban protein supplements? What about electrolytes? Are these also not performance enhancing substances? Even within the list of WADA banned substances, vague words like “might” or “may” are used frequently – this drug “may” improve the athlete’s explosiveness. This always leaves room for the possibility that it may not. One such substance with an inconclusive stance is Meldonium. The substance that got Maria banned. When that controversy was still burning as brightly as a welder’s flame torch, there were varying takes on whether or not Meldonium actually granted its users any unfair advantage. The drug manufacturers weighed in and said it does not having any performance enhancing side effects they know of. ‘Straightforward’ might be too far off. The classification criteria and the verification, is downright confusing. To keep it simple, if WADA bans it, DON’T TAKE IT…
…Unless you have a TUE. Well, what’s a TUE? I asked myself that same question when news about the data leak first hit the media. A Therapeutic Use Exemption allows a professional athlete use an otherwise banned substance for designated periods of time to treat legitimate medical conditions. While WADA maintains that a TUE is issued after it has been determined that no unfair advantage is given to the requesting athlete, one has to wonder how this determination is done. That is exactly what this hacking incident has done. It has sown a seed of doubt in the minds of a few. Sure, the exposed athletes have documented medical issues that necessitate the need for a TUE but does that mean it hasn’t helped them beyond the therapeutic needs for which it was granted? The relevance of this question is amplified by the fact that these are all successful athletes. While I am in no way implying any of the exposed athletes have cheated – they certainly haven’t broken any rules – I wonder if this isn’t the same question ringing in the mind of their fellow competitors. I am just as curious to know how many athletes have a TUE.
The beauty of sport – professional or amateur – is in the heat of fair competition. The champions become our heroes, our role models and their feats are romanticized in all the cyber literature we churn out, every day. That literature appeals to us in the same way old tales did. We celebrate the champion or the unknown talent who overcomes the odds to stand alone in the limelight. We also deride those who seek to attain greatness through unfair means. Beyond the bans imposed by regulatory bodies such as WADA, the destruction of a carefully built image is considered a harsher punishment. This is especially true if that athlete has achieved great success in their sport. The fall or at least the compromise of a great star’s name, breeds distrust between the fans of the sport and its competitors. It also diminishes any accomplishments the player has. Suddenly, success does not come on the heels of talent, hard work and skill, but on the wings of an illegal substance. That in itself is devastating.
The beauty of sport – professional or amateur – is in the heat of fair competition. The champions become our heroes, our role models and their feats are romanticized…
This is further exacerbated when it seems like a regulatory body’s rules are compromised. The hack into WADA’s confidential files may not have proven anything in the cases of the Williams sisters, or Simone Biles, but it raises questions as to how many others might be using TUEs for more nefarious reasons. Could everyone currently on a TUE issued by WADA be telling the truth? In fact, it would be statistical sacrilege to assume so. Can we assume that everyone who competes in a sport is doing so honestly and fairly? Remember that professional sport is now a multi-billion dollar global industry. The stakes are sky high and the rewards are great for the winners and frankly, people have cheated for less. It is because of this, that regulatory bodies like WADA are formed in the first place.
Could everyone currently on a TUE issued by WADA be telling the truth? In fact, it would be statistical sacrilege to assume so.
With the issue of TUEs now front and center, it is important for WADA to step up and own the situation. While I am vehemently against the unjust exposure of confidential player information, I do believe that the hackers have inadvertently exposed a potential flaw in the PED control system. That has to be addressed. The first step is to let the public know just how WADA determines whether or not a TUE does or does not grant an athlete an unfair advantage. Is this process as airtight as it can possibly be? These are real issues that threaten the integrity of sport – I have used ‘sport’ instead of ‘tennis’ because this goes beyond Tennis.
These controversies have marred just about every major sporting event this year. It is quite unfortunate that a few prominent athletes have been caught in the crossfire and while my support goes out to them, this presents an opportunity for them to help quench the PED flames that have swept up professional sports in the last nine months and show once again, that sport is about so much more than cheating.
Suddenly, success does not come on the heels of talent, hard work and skill, but on the wings of an illegal substance. That in itself is devastating.
Finally, I’ve pasted a table below that captures my research into some of the substances/drugs mentioned in the leak. You be the judge on whether or not we need to really look at TUEs a lot more closely than maybe we already do.
|Drug(s)||Clinical Use||Performance Benefits||Research Source(s)|
|Methylphenidate||ADD and ADHD||psychostimulation||http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18032226
Immune system disorders
Skin and eye conditions
|Possible physical performance enhancement||http://www.webmd.com/
|Moderate to severe pain relief||Invincibility Feeling
Pain threshold increase
Sensation of Euphoria