Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Free Olympics - file

Words are cheap and opinion costs less.

There should be a Free Olympics. These words were chosen with care and attention to clarity and meaningful expression of an opinion that is gaining momentum in the international discussion on drug-free sport.

Free from restrictions over which performance enhancing chemical substances can be taken.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this is being suggested, but it is. The hyperbolic War on ‘Drugs’ rationale has clouded the issue in any rational discussion over ethics and strategy on this issue.

A direct by-product of historical McCarthyism this meaningless and ineffectual shadow of political morality has cast almost impenetrably dark clouds over world opinion from the rise of globally dominant American ideology to the present day.

What exactly are the moral differences between the chemicals in carrots and steroids or coffee and amphetamines?

Everything we ingest has a chemical definition and affects us in some way. The pharmacological definition of the word drug lists its functions and doesn’t differentiate between them; likewise the common usage of the word includes medicine and mushrooms.

Even the term ‘natural’ is irrelevant; cocaine is a naturally occurring substance as are carrots, our performance might benefit from the judicious use of carrots or cocaine. And many of the same people who will complain about synthetic performance drugs will be concomitantly slurping on their beef and carrot cup-a-soups.

Whether you agree with recreational or performance drugs or not you should be wary of the politicians’ rhetoric because exaggeration and simplification only brush the issues under the carpet. History proves that prohibition doesn’t solve anything; it doesn’t even provide much of an obstacle.

The basic anti-doping principles of sport were laid down in 1967 by the International Olympic Committee:

1. protection of the athletes' health
2. respect for medical and sports ethics
3. ensure an equal chance for everyone during competition.

There is no reason here to distinguish between performance enhanced sport and non, except that the rules should be the same for everyone. Therefore the codes should be separated; a Free Olympics AND a Drug-Free Olympics.


1. The argument that athletes would risk their lives by taking more and more dangerous drugs doesn’t carry any weight. This article is promoting responsible and professional scientific research, practice and advance not chemical abandonment. Athletes, humans, have always pushed themselves to the extremes. It is the very same fundamental motivation that drives human excellence in all fields, not just sport, and it should be developed and encouraged. Be all that you can be.

2. Enhancing performance safely through transparent scientific research and practice doesn’t challenge any medical ethics and the only sports ethic should be one of equality for all within agreed rules.

3. An equal chance for everyone is not being achieved by prohibition, the only answer is segregation.



It might even be argued that it’s impossible to have a level playing field anyway.

Think of the economic and social disadvantages of a Sudanese to an American and their nutritional and genetic consequences not to mention their appetite for or opportunity to excel at sport. Think of German or Swedish attempts at eugenics…

Nothing immoral in drugs just like there’s nothing sinful about political sympathy, gender, colour or race. It’s all spin; transient politically manipulated morality.

Parity is the real issue here, not drugs or morality. Therefore the solution should address that and not get caught up in culturally unilateral and historically fickle politics. Zero tolerance is an effective strategy in some affairs and it might also be a feature of the Drug-Free Olympics, especially as a Free Olympics would offer a fair alternative to cheating.

Perhaps those who pontificate freely and brashly on this topic would do well to look at their own colleagues and ask who stops journalists from being all they can be by taking performance enhancing drugs. The police?

Is it right and fair that writers, journalists (and other professionals) might benefit from performance enhancing drugs while athletes and sportsmen may not? Particularly when sports are freely described as art…

Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Borroughs, Will Self, Lord Byron; Ben Johnson, Diane Modahl, Thomas Hicks, Festina, Lance Armstrong. Hard to say that these folk were on a level pitch.

Drugs in journalism; also dangerous if unsupervised, also gives an unfair advantage in a competitive field, also changes the nature of the competition, also illegal, also chosen by many despite the risks, ‘immorality’ and illegality.

Ultimately there is nothing different about performance drugs than any performance strategy. If there was an open debate, scientific development and free competition it wouldn’t change the fact that only the most exceptional athletes would win in either code.

Free the Olympics from cheats; celebrate drug-free sport and also explore vigorously chemically enhanced human potential. It will probably be superseded by genetically engineered athletics anyway!

37 comments:

mimi said...

Stonking stuff File. Wish I'd written this. When lurking in the sewers of the Westminster village, a friend of mine was responsible for Will Self being kicked off the political plane. He remains a fine writer and others would do well before judging performance enhancing drugs, from the capuccino to the rather harder forms.

NESTA QUIN said...

Thuoght provoking article Mr File. I'm going to give this a few more days to settle into the grey matter before I comment fully.

First thought, however, concerns children and growing adolescents. You don't magically acquire the skills to become an Olympic athlete upon reaching adulthood. Many athletes excel at youth levels and 'come through the ranks'. With competition strong at these levels - especially for prized places at sports institutes - performance enhancing drugs would surely be used - if legal - to get the 'edge' required. Few teenagers have the wisdom required to weigh up the risks and there are many adults that would exploit the talented teenage athlete for their own benefit.

That's my initial reaction and I will comment further in the days to come because I think this is a very interesting, if dangerous, idea.

file said...

nesta,

thanks for raising that

1. think of the present situation where many amateur athletes at all levels and ages are accessing illicit PED's on who knows whose advice and of who knows what origin

2. nobody is really suggesting having drugged sport in schools. This refers to an alternative for high level athletes who might choose to work for a drugs company for example

3. it would be a chance to learn specifically about this underdeveloped science and it would even improve the testing ability of the drug-free Olympics

guitougoal said...

file,
very interesting stuff it's forward thinking but an utopia:
free pakalolo would be a good start.Seriously, to get to this stage ,to free drugs at the olympics-you not only need the Olympic committee, you need also governements and sport federations involved- You don't only need permission of the parents, you need the permission of the parole officer.Every single moral authority in the world will enter the equation.Never a consensus of opinions could be reached among so many governing bodies with conflicting agenda.
I am looking forward to read our fellow bloggers comments because of the sensitiviy of the subject.

bluedaddy said...

Despite Thompson and Burroughs probably being armed to the teeth, I still reckon Lance Armstrong would win that level pitch race (as long as he has a year to prepare)... or have I got the wrong end of the baton there?

Doesn't an open season on drugs hand the initiative ever further to the wealthy, such as pharmaceutical firms, and away from the 'natural' phenomenon from East Africa or East Lancs? Also, isnt it likely that people would regularly go too far, ie death or deformity, to achieve their goal, especially given financial incentives?

Zeph said...

BD, that's what I was thinking - you would have a 'free' Olympics in which one or two nations won all the medals because they could afford the most advanced treatments, while others had no hope of competing.

Perhaps it would be better to have a Big Pharma Games, in which athletes competed in the colours of the drugs company which would sponsor them and provide their PEDs - essentially the competitions would be controlled experiments in the use of the company's products under pressure. Athletes should be paid, and could demand very high fees in view of the companies' potential profits.

This would be very attractive to some athletes who want to break records and achieve the impossible, while others would represent their nation for the honour and cameraderie in the old-fashioned drug-free Olympics.

file said...

bd,

I don't think that 'open season' really reflects this view fairly

as I mentioned above the potential would lie with drug companies and govts. and there would be many rewards for them

but they would have to have transparent research notes, testing procedures and safety regulations

the Free Olympics would not be a testing centre, it would be a race track

perhaps thats a fairer analogy;

Motorsports drivers put their hands in the lives of engineers sponsored by big business all the time

nobody ever doubts whether Ferrari would risk their drivers in the name of progress

and the whole reason for splitting them up is that they can't behave when they are together

if there was a Free Olympics there would be a genuinely Drug-Free Olympics

levelling the playing field for yer East Af's, East Lancs and your East Enders

file said...

zeph,

Olympics is just a hook, of course if it ever happened it would be a 'Games' of another sort

whose to say it would attract any sort of support at all, would you watch it?


guitou,

they could do it tomorrow if they wanted to, in some Patsy country with a liberal govt., they needn't even have an audience

bluedaddy said...

"as I mentioned above the potential would lie with drug companies and govts. and there would be many rewards for them

but they would have to have transparent research notes, testing procedures and safety regulations"

I suppose that while currently we have to guess who's bending the rules, if we involve govts and big pharma co.s we will at least know for sure they are all lying cocksuckers (copyright Bill Hicks).

Gotta go but hope to come back to this if life permits.

Evening all!

guitougoal said...

file.
in a perfect world your point is valid-
However the cost of some of the enhancing drugs (hgh) is very high most of the poor countries couldn't afford them.
The most relevant issue: it's life threatening. Athletes died for using drugs,the public opinion, part of the equation would never budge over this issue.

MotM said...

Interesting stuff and a point that I have seen made elsewhere.

I have read a fair bit about drugs and know that the line between legal and illegal is largely arbitrary. I wouldn't go for a Thomas Szasz style totally free market, but I want some regime that allows supply of drugs under contract rather than at the point of a gun.

In sport, I just don't think this boundary would work. There would be no money and little incentive in watching people come close to killing themselves (despite the fact that many people consider motorsport fans as only waiting for the crashes, the TT is on its last legs because there are too few restrictions and too many fatalities). In consequence, the money would only be in the clean sport category and the cheats would migrate there and we're back were we started.

Nesta's point is very good too.

On the wider issue of what is and isn't sport and whether sport is healty or not, I wrote this a year or so ago, which might distract pseuds - http://fdasjists.blogspot.com/2006/05/just-not-cricket.html.

levremance said...

These days the technological arms race is in the field of masking agents. My casual reading on the subject of PED's is that detection is becoming very difficult due to advances in ways of hiding their use.

So while you might like to think that by having testing regimes you 'protect' youngsters from drugs, the fact is they may well be getting 2 shots rather than one. One to give the effect and one to hide it.

file said...

this is NOT intended as a panacea for all drug related social ills, not a Szasz style trip but a professional highly technical event with 2 aims:

* make it possible to clean up Drug-Free sport
* advance global scientific development

a Free Games might:

* be a stand alone annual event

* feature professional consenting adult athletes

* develop an open scientific peer group for review of findings

* concurrently advance testing procedures

* make possible genuinely Drug-Free Sport

* justify zero-tolerance and life bans for cheats


And a Free Games would not:

* change any existing drug laws (PED’s are not generally illegal, only in sport)

* change the marketing/availability of PED’s (to kids or anyone else) except where advances in science show positive applications (Omega 3 is a PED; legal, beneficial and not at all dangerous)


DANGER! to athletes:

the real danger is in unregulated development and complex anti-detection practices

the argument of danger to human life in this debate really doesn’t stand up

* all sports are dangerous

* we idolize excellence which involves pioneering and calculated risk taking, why is this different?

* the research and development undertaken would raise understanding of PED’s, increasing our potential to identify problems and safely enhance performance

* imagine the ‘Pfizer Free’ team; how exactly would the pharm.co. benefit from having their athletes keel over on the world stage? It would be in everyone’s interest that this never happens, and it would be more difficult to hide

Again think about this: Free Games would not be a testing centre it would be Formula 1 where teams would proudly show off the wonderful results of their transparent research

guitougoal said...

file,
'the argument of danger to human life doesn't stand up"
The point raised in my last post was not about your opinion being correct or not.It was about the question of wether it is possible or not to estimate that "free-drugs" as you described it, could happen in the future or could be the consequences of a simple decision-
Your suggestion has implications that are at odds with traditional morality consequently public opinion won't be favorable.
"Not dangerous"- yes it is regarding the scientists and there is also a problem of addiction with genetic consequences-

file said...

G,

I didn't say it's 'not dangerous', just argued that a level of danger should not stop development

Moto GP is extremely dangerous, should we ban it?

and 'traditional morality' has created the situation we are in; cheats and secrecy

why not try a new approach?

nesta said...

Is that a picture of the incorrigable Fuk Yu, File. I suspected your kidnapping was a ruse to throw Mr Tang off the scent. Just how are the Fontless People of Minge fairing in their jungle hideaway?

Drugs in Sport. A few quick thoughts. Busy as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest.

If we had a clean Games and an open slather Games the problem of drugs in the clean games still remains. Why compete with the 'monsters' if you can gain glory by masking and winning medals at the Clean games.

A real example although not drug related. At the 2000 Paralympics the Spanish Basketball team competing in the class for mentally challenged individuals/teams contained men with no disability at all. They just pretended to have mild cerebal palsy. The team management and doctors were involved in this conspiracy and thankfully they were outed, disgraced and deported. Shame on you Spain!!

They tried to gain an unfair advantage and the same would undoubtedly happen even if we had two classes of athletes. Some of the drug takers who weren't up to scratch would attempt to qualify at the clean games so they could win. I have no doubt about it.

I'll be back later with some thoughts on genetic engineering (I have experience with GM plants in my botanical work. In fact I have manipulated genes with my own hands) and my own experience of performance enhancing ganga to help while the hours in the field.

andrewm said...

file, you put your case very intelligently and thoroughly, so I commend you for that. However, what you're proposing goes against everything that I believe organised sport stands for, and I don't think anyone can argue me out of that conviction.

Using drugs is cheating - I don't mean it's breaking the rules as laid down by officials, I mean it's cheating yourself and the spectators who believe in you and your achievements. Tell me that Michael Johnson's 200m world record would mean anything, anything at all, if he was on steroids, whether everyone else was or not.

You don't give up opposing the cheats just because you think you can't beat them. That's bollocks.

marcela said...

radical thinking, file, and i think i agree with you.

very interesting arguments from those who don't. but i'm not persuaded.

"parity is the issue, rather than morality". amen.

offsideintoulouse said...

Monsieur File, step this way and pee into that cup, please. The Ch√Ętenay-Malabry lab will pass on the results to L'Equipe newspaper so they can be made public.

Oh, and have a toke of that while you're here, it'll tickle your nipples and loosen your marbles.

file said...

andrewm,

if I guaranteed you drug-free sport just by having an annual 2 week meet somewhere in the world, you'd be very happy and so would the IOC

athletes acheivements in the Free Games would only count as research data

Free Games would be a chance for an amnesty and a clean slate, a chance for poachers to be reemployed as gamekeepers and their knowledge to be pooled

and this isn't giving up opposing cheats (fer bunnies sake) it's just not running at plexiglass banging fists for decades and centuries

as a small, green jedi master might have said 'you keep doing what you do and you'll get what you've got'

nesta,
what a really fucking depressing story, did they have time to show off their medals?

as I say, if PED testing could be made infallible and instant, it would clean up sport in 6 months

the genetic engineering of athletes is already here in some forms (genetic doping, arranged marriages, sperm banks...)most of it will be completely untestable, this whole argument (and athletics), becomes redundant

marcela,
I've been thinking about it for years but the debate on zero tolerance and life bans for athletes sparked me to put it down

athletes shouldn't need chemistry degrees and they shouldn't need to watch which cold medicine they choose, folk like Modhal don't deserve their fate

even those guilty are often guilty mostly of conditioning, they are not the sub-human bacteria NC suggests

offside,

toulouse or not toulouse? that is the question

mimi said...

Drugs in sport are not going to go away, anymore than drugs on the street corner will. A debate that is not the back pages leaping on the latest bandwagon is to be welcomed. If I may refer to my favoured sport of cycling: there has been so much written recently because of the imminent Tour de France and the fact we still don't actually have an indubitable winner from last year and that given Riis's confession, we don't even have a winner of the 1996 Tour (all 3 on the podium have fessed up, or been caught), sadly cycling remains the sport of cheats. And yet, this is probably the one sport that is doing most to clean up its act, and do it in the full glare of the public eye. If other sports were as willing, there might be no need for Free Olympics.

MotM said...

File - You build a good case, but I still think the Free Games as a Research Lab is like the Colliseum as a play-off for plum spots in the Roman Army.

As with most tricky issues in life, there is a morality argument, even if it does lead to prissiness on the part of the maker.

Would you advocate teenage boxers fighting on amphetamines? Once you say No (and I do, emphatically), morality is in there qualifying libertarianism.

Sorry if you've covered some of these points before - I'm writing in a hurry!!

file said...

mouth,

all social inventions can be used for good or evil; police, rotary club, religion, politics...

and that's exactly what I want to do; sidestep the morality issue

achieve parity, then talk about morality

and your teenage boxers on amphetamines are exactly the people this idea would help, tho having said that most of the Thai boxers here drink gallons of industrial grade caffeine drinks - red bull on crack - that are freely available and enjoyed by truck drivers and motorcyle taxi riders across the land - PED/DOA?

mimi,
I really hope that cycling CAN lead the way, usually the robbers are one step ahead of the cops, isn't that what makes this idea so appealling?

mimi said...

file: mouth and others may ridicule me for my naivity, but I genuinely believe that the majority of the peloton wishes for cycling to be drug free, and that by washing laundry in public, we are helping the sport. An interesting column this month in CS is Confession v Omerta. Ended with + 20 for confession and -5,371,097 for omerta. And at this time I am listening to The Drugs Don't Work. Nice. Eh?

michel jonasz said...

Le blanc qui chante "Toulouse", le noir qui chante "I was born to lose"....

MotM said...

File - Do you know of the mysterious Rand Corportaion? The strange, but brilliant, John von Neumann used to play "dollar auctions" with his students there. The dollar auction isn't a bad model for the Free Games. Here's a good explanation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar_auction.

It's what would happen once people catch on that the more drugs you take, the less likely you are too finish second. At the end of that auction, you find Tom Simpson amongst others.

MotM said...

Sorry about my previous post - I promise to write in Engish next time.

file said...

mouth,

I'm aware of games theory but not sure if it applies, the rand org started out as a military think tank

if Free Games teams gave amphetamines and whisky to an athlete with a medical history of stomach problems then you'd probably get a 'Tom Simpson' type situation

but why are you caught up on escalating danger?

what's so crazy about controlled development?

MotM said...

File - The Rand Corp was (and probably still is) a very shady organisation indeed.

I do think Game Theory is useful here though - not that I'm an expert!

DoctorShoot said...

great post file
and when is a drug not a drug.
it would be nice to have a performance to enhance at least, and sad to say my experimentations in drug ingestion over fifty years has produced so little of note that I have never even been tested for anything (other than random breath test which I managed to get through by masking with coca cola and chewing gum, but failed on white line walk and the subsequent blood sample - even though I disputed the sampling process)...

could be a good field for lawyers anyhow....

mimi said...

Doc: when is a drug not a drug, you ask. I suggest you ask the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes! I'm sure his explanation would be illuminating for us all!

file said...

mouth,

perhaps it should be a concern then, can you explain to me please (in detail) how Games Theory/Dollar Game would prevent Free Games from being a good idea?

I have great respect for your intelligence Mouth and I'm sure you could give it a fair pop, but it's not natural law just a psycho-social dynamic thing, like Piretto's law (or Murphey's or Sod's) explain a bit but not everything

I really don't have an axe to grind, it's just a discussion and I'd be happy to be convinced but vague allusions to sinister groups and theories are just ghost stories

to be honest, despite some considered points, nothing here provides much of an argument against a Free Games

lots of instinctive resistance, warmed-up conditioning and ghosts, but after points are met nothing new comes back, suggests it might be a good idea

MotM said...

File - I'll try.

Game theory as far as I understand it analyses how cooperative and defect strategies play out at macro and micro levels in two player and multi-player games on single plays and repeat plays. This does look a bit like the life of an athlete considering whether to cooperate (and stay inside the rules) or defect (and step outside the rules).

I postulate that the Free Games would become a dollar auction (indeed, the current games might be analysed as a dollar auction) because second is effectively nothing, but the athlete still paid a huge price (in training, time, drug programmmes possibly). So if an athlete feels drugs give an advantage (and presumably he does as that's why he's in the Free Games) and he's 1/100th off a Gold, a little more Athlete's Little Helper might get that back - but the other guy thinks that too, so once they start, they're stuck in an Arms Race with big Pharma providing the Mirvs.

There's enough evidence to show that there is such a things as too many drugs and there are people who don't know that, or do know it, but run the risk anyway.

And I, having sympathy with libertarianism, but not being a libertarian, would intervene to stop that.

Hope that helps File - it's the kind of discussion that works better over a bottle of the Macallan between 1.00am and 3.00am.

mimi said...

If I may be a little flip here, but also a bit dark. Mouth's Athletes Little Helpers could be compared with the 1960s and 70s Mothers Little Helpers of which those old bad boys the Rolling Stones sang of, but which caused immense heartbreak and trouble to women in those years. Small pills, much damage do.
I think it is admirable that such a debate can be had.

file said...

Mouth,

well done, but there are a few assumptions built in to this prediction

1. athletes would not be able to take a bit more 'little helper' of their own accord, their diets and PED's would be tightly controlled by their teams and games regulations

2. who says 'more' is better? There are many drugs (homeopathy stylee) that achieve desired potency with smaller doses or in timed dosages

I think the idea might be that teams develop a long term strategy of PED supplement as well as short term fixes

it would have to be a team Games with scientists getting the medals too

the point that really stops this from pursuading me tho is that, as mentioned above, teams would be transparent and IF ACME PHARM.CO athletes suffered serious health problems as a result of ACME practices then the resulting publicity would be hugely negative to them

absolute transparency ensures that athletes health would be the primary goal, (superhealth?)and the competitive yardstick, which means that the dollar game effect would not apply

I agree fully however that this debate would go even better with Performance Enhancing Malt

but I'll refrain out of sympathy and solidarity with my oppressed athletic brothers (and sisters) who may only nibble at pasteurized celery

mimi,

notice how the debate is different from the GU blog which never really got past life bans for cheats (Hang 'em all!!)

file said...

...and just a thought, we as society, are mostly happy to go blindly into tomotoes enhanced with crocodile dna and mobile phones without ANY long term research into human health (BSE/CJD) en masse

why resistance to regulating and segregating PED science affecting only a few hundred individuals directly?

we accept that under the present dollar game (much more applicable) some folk will practice secret and dangerous PED strategies to cheat

but oppose transparent research

mimi said...

File: I haven't followed a GU blog for a long time now, so don't know what went on there. I have enjoyed that this debate has been devoid of knee-jerk reactions and addressed a very important issue with due diligence. I am waiting for everything to kick off again here when the Tour starts. If David Millar does well, and he could win the Prologue in London, then every single big paper story will lead with some sort of Drug Cheat headline.

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