The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions

A well-known saying and appropriate for the current situation of anti-doping in sports.

I am writing this article out of discontent with the direction anti-doping seems to be taking. In the past my point of view has be ridiculed and attacked, but more and more people start to see that my point of view isn’t as extreme or improbable as they thought. In the end time always tells and history changes. More people, who in former days ridiculed or doubted my point of view, now contact me,  since they are dealing with the very same problem I tried to point out to them twenty years ago.

History shows that many well-intended ideas and solutions, originally developed to make the world a better place for most of us, in the end turn into a cure which is worse than the disease.

To name a few (political) ideas, inventions or concepts that started with good intentions, but ended up distorted or misused: communism, democracy, dynamite, the machine gun, plastic, DDT, Thalidomide, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the list is long.

In sports we have the same problem: elite sports itself as intended by the Olympic movement, early on in its history became misused for political ideas, e.g. the Nazis during Berlin 1936 Olympics, showing political superiority during the Cold War between the USA and the socialist states, or brushing up the image of a totalitarian state.  

These days sport can also be seen as a simple money-printing machine allowing corruption at the highest levels (IOC, FIFA, IAAF, etc.).  The latest expression of this well-intended foolishness in sports are the anti-doping organizations.

The principally just and right intention to ban the use of doping in sports has been transformed into a monster of Frankenstein which does not only destroy the core of its own existence, but also the principles and ideas is was supposed to protect.

Starting off as an attempt to limit or ban the use of dangerous performance enhancing substances by athletes, in order to create a fairer sport and keep athletes healthy, it slowly but surely corrupted its own development and intentions.

First of all just like sport itself, these organizations have seen a takeover by politicians and lawyers, people living far away from the daily reality of (elite)sports, and with their own, different agenda: personal interests and intentions, most often gaining power, status and money.

The smart thing to do was to cover the issue with the original intentions, used words and expressions like: “fair play”, “level playing field”, “integrity”, etc.

The second issue was the typical use of marketing and propaganda e.g. the war-symbolism: the “war on doping”,  like the “war on cancer”, the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, which all failed miserably. The war symbolism is used to make it simple and clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in this game, good against evil, light against dark. The good guys being: clean athletes, testers, whistle blowers, federations, scientists, organizations like CAS, WADA, etc. While the bad guys are cheating athletes or coaches and other support staff.

Yes, easy, isn’t it? Light and dark, good and evil. Nice for fairy tales such as Harry Potter or The Lords of the Rings, but real life is more complex than that. First of all: the good people too often demonstrate to be as evil as the bad people. A few examples: Rodchenkov, who’s duty and job it was to control anti-doping, was in reality leading a systematic doping system, and the same thing happened in the former GRD.

Or take doctor Gabriel Dolle, head of anti-doping of the IAAF, pocketing lots of money by making positive cases disappear. And what to think of our so called important leaders who supported  the “war on doping”, at least in words: Ajan (weightlifting), Lamine Diack (athletics), or de Merode (IOC) whose important anti-doping files disappeared during the 1984 Olympics. And many other leaders whose empty words and lies misguided the majority of people involved in sports. E.g. Havelange, Blatter and Platini and many more at FIFA. Good guy or wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing? The list is as long as the list of positive athletes.

And on the other hand, think about these clean athletes who for whatever reason tested false-positive, being branded as cheats or criminals, and left with a ruined sports career, a blemished name, and some lame excuse if they are lucky. Anti-doping turned every athlete into a potent perpetrator or criminal who cannot be trusted and whose claim of innocence should be whisked away.

“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”    ― H.L. Mencken

Disproportional and bothersome control measures are presented to athletes as being for their own good. In order to simply participate in sports at a decent level one has to regularly give blood, urine, saliva and in the future DNA samples. Measures unthinkable in any other field of work and leisure.

The ultimate structural failure and hypocrisy, recently happened when the US senate accepted the Rodchenkov Act, which gives USA the power to criminalize and prosecute athletes from other countries, when there is evidence they “stole” a medal from US athletes by using banned substances. A big milestone on the road to hell.

Strangely enough, professional athletes from the USA itself, are excluded from this ridiculous law, like NFL, NBA, MLB, Pro-golfers or college athletes. Yes, indeed, and then they still have the guts to talk about fairness, integrity or justice…

I doubt that any athlete, federation or government of any country will get any US support in return if this law will become reciprocal. So when other countries accept a law like this, and US elite athletes and citizens who use banned substances will be prosecuted abroad for the same reason.

Also many people working in sports find it hard to understand why some athletes get a lesser penalty for the same or a worse infliction of the WADA doping rules. Political power-play and money still always play the most important role. And transparency and justice only seem to be empty words misused to deceive a large part of the people involved in sports.

One does not need to be a historian to see the fate of this “war on doping”, just like the other “wars on ……” it is doomed to fail. Destroying what is was supposed to protect, demolishing the real values of sport, causing more and more collateral damage, and again being misused as a way to show political and national power (the anti-doping labs have become battlefields in a new Cold War). And this is only profitable for a handful of sport politicians, lawyers and people with financial interests in testing (more athletes + more substances on the list + more frequent testing = more profit).

The hard thing to understand is that the anti-doping community with its good intentions seems to be blind and deaf for the offences and hypocrisy on their own side.  Nobody dares to stand up, for fear of their job or position, nobody resigns because they do not agree with a situation. They don’t see it, and if they do, they prefer to look the other way instead. Tunnel vision is seen as an advantage. Instead they focus on the “evil enemy”, the athlete who by definition is suspect and should be controlled, preferably day and night. And no means are spared to stamp out the doping-devil at the side of the athletes.

I always find it interesting that employees working in the anti-doping organizations or a sports federation, are more worried or get angry about an athlete taking a banned substance than about their own leaders and chiefs pocketing sometimes millions of Euros. Leaders who lie, deceive or display lack of integrity, but the employees keep their mouths shut. Worrying, to say the least.

“Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Obedience is doing what is told regardless of what is right.”   ― H.L. Mencken

Literature

  • The Misinformation Age. How False Beliefs Spread
  • Cailin O’Connor James Owen Weatherall,  Yale University Press, 2019
  • Wrong. Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs – David H. Freedman
  • Why smart people can be so stupid edited by Robert J. Sternberg.
  • UNEXPECTEDCONSEQUENCES. Why the Things We Trust Fail- James William Martin

3 Comments

  1. Erik Hein

    Goede post!
    Mooie quote.
    “Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Obedience is doing what is told regardless of what is right.” ― H.L. Mencken

  2. Ivan

    Great post! The cold war in sports never really ended. It’s always evil Russians
    and Easter Europeans who always dope (how else would they possibly be any good)
    and deny virtuous Westerners their dreams.

    Since you mention Rodchenko Act in the US, many European countries have
    also criminalized doping (its use, not just distribution). You have police searches
    all the time in Italy and France during major bike races.

    But is there an alternative? It’s human nature that we cheat. People will cheat in
    a village race/game where there’s no money/glory/fame at stake.

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