A revealing discrepancy.

Having been very busy last three weeks, I finally found some time to work on my blog again, many new ideas popped up, but travelling and working I did not yet find to time to write and publish.
But I prefer not to post instead of writing a post I am not happy with.

Last week these numbers came out: during the IAAF World Championships in Daegu in 2011, 29% of the athletes anonymously admitted having taken forbidden performance enhancing substances and during the Pan-Arab Games in Doha in 2011 this number was a whopping 45%!  Research on these kind of research shows us that these numbers should be viewed as being even on the low side. Some athletes are still afraid to tell about their use of performance enhancing substances even anonymously.
(Also the test results of 622 samples of urine and blood samples from training and competition at the 2013 Tour de France showed 0 positive tests-what’s your opinion?)
This research and report, presented by the researchers and the IAAF to WADA has not been published  so far. We can just wonder why. WADA testing throughout the years shows a positive testing score of only 1-2% positive cases.
So, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that there is some discrepancy here.

But what could these numbers possibly tell us?
It could tell us that after more than 30 years of serious doping testing athletes are still outsmarting the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art “we can find a sugar cube in a swimming pool” testing systems available.
And at this moment, testing has reached the limit of scientific acceptability.  Like at the recent IAAF World Championships Athletics in Moscow, all participating athletes have been tested for urine and blood testing and track stars like Usain Bolt seldom leaves the track untested.
The quality and the quantity of testing cannot be improved and increased unless we are willing to have all athletes in a 24-7 continuous blood collection and surveillance system. Of course we can always find a fool proposing this to happen, turning sports into an activity with total contro , a Big Brother-like set-up, also still known from the former days of communism in the Soviet-Union with the KGB and the GDR with the Stasi, at its best.

But if that is the way sports is going to develop, fine for me too. H.L. Mencken used to say: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and then deserve to get it good and hard.”
These numbers also give a different meaning to the words: fair play, level playing field and cheaters. It shows that the playing field is more level that we assumed since the reality could even be that the majority of athletes is using forbidden performance enhancing substances, instead of a minor percentage of cheaters.

Also do not forget within the 1-2% group of athletes testing positive, there are a lot who used substances that even would never ever have a positive contribution to performances: cannabis , well, try and find out. I would like to advise this to the opponents of your athletes.  Or contaminations of nutritional substances (remember the many nandrolon cases?) or your regular diet (clenbuterol), which tells us more about the quality of our  food supply than of the tendency to illegally enhance performance. In my opinion the athlete has the basic right to take uncontaminated food into his/her body, just like you do. But contrary to normal life, when an athlete is the victim of contamination, they turn into perpetrators. By the way, do you really know what is in your food, my advice: avoid fish from the Pacific for the time coming, since the label won’t tell you about radioactivity levels, nor will the fishing industry or the government.

Also sometimes athletes take substances which might have a theoretical performance-enhancing effect at best, but less than e.g. drinking a cup of coffee,  I think of substances like geranamine or methyl-hexanamine, oxilofrine, etc. Stupid, yes, absolutely, also because they are so easy to detect,  but worth a four year ban?

Now the 2% – versus, let’s say 30% discrepancy, also shows us that millions of dollars or Euro’s have been wasted already on testing, research and well-meant educational projects.  Doping-testing has turned into a profitable industry, the organisations, the labs, the boards, the PR departments, the scientists, the logistics or the travel costs.  And the final result we see, hear and read that every day.  In the many cases that I am aware of, the total costs of doping testing per person starts to exceed the total financial support for the athletes.

With the increase of number of tests, more substances to test for and the evolution of sophisticated equipment, the price for testing will only increase in the future. At the other hand we see the worsening economic situation in many countries and the withdrawal of sponsors. Many federations decrease the budget for support of the athletes, leading a struggle to survive financially with a simple way out: just perform better, with an even stronger incentive to enhance performance, also through the use of performance enhancing substances! There will be a point where some athletes are going to make a choice: quit or use.

Competitive sports is coming closer and closer to a point where strong and ugly questions will have to be asked and decisions will have to be made: do we still value sports performances in competitive sports like before or is competitive sports on the way out? Remember when everybody smoked and nobody raised a question?  Just look at movies from the fifties and sixties, who would have thought that smoking once would be socially unacceptable? A possibilty is a shift towards different forms of sport like extreme sports. Or maybe different forms of entertainment will replace competitive sports  altogether.  Don’t forget, the classic Olympic games once disappeared too.

And will there still be need for a body that is more than a package for a beautiful brain. Technology, mobile communication, computers and internet minimized the need for a physical body. In Holland we seldom see children play outside like my generation used to do. The government erased physical education from the curriculum.  Yes, maybe children will get obese or diabetes, but we always found medical progress on our side. Also here the dramatic increase in the numbers of obese people leads to a level playing field, nobody will call you obese if everybody is obese. Obese might become the norm. And maybe a new generation prefers to live 5 years less, and be happier and more fulfilled instead.  Sports is often on the edge of many medical and social developments.
Often, only when you lost something, you start to see the value of it.

About Henk Kraaijenhof

My name is Henk Kraaijenhof and I started this blog as a random collection of concepts, ideas, stories and events that are important or interesting to me in my work as an international performance consultant in a wide range of fields, and sometimes outside of my work. I will try to post a new entry every 3-4 days. Feel free to comment if you like.
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