Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"It will level the playing field"

You often hear pro-doping pundits support their belief with something along the lines of, "Well, it will level the playing field if everyone is allowed to dope." That's pretty much what the last French winner of the French Open, Yannick Noah, said in Le Monde (that's a fancy-pants French newspaper) recently. 

Noah. Perhaps he should stick to tennis.

In case you missed it, here's what he said; 

When I dragged my racket around the courts, we weren’t humiliated, far from it, against our Spanish friends. The same on the football pitch, the basketball hall or the roads of the Tour de France. Today, they run faster than us, they are stronger than us and we’re only left with the crumbs. Next to them, it’s simple, we look like gnomes. What’s happened for us to miss out?
How can one nation dominate the sport to this extent?...Today, sport is a bit like Asterix at the Olympic Games: if you don't have the magic potion, it's hard to win. And there, we get the impression that they - just like Obelix - fell into the magic potion. Lucky them.

In Spain, the Fuentes affair just fizzled out. Most of the good doctor's clients were spared...But why do we roll out the red carpet for Contador to come back to the Tour after he returned a doping positive (due to a bad piece of meat, of course...)? Let's stop being hypocrites...The best attitude to have is to accept doping. And then everybody would have the magic potion...
Makes perfect sense, right? Give the magic potion to everyone and then it will be fair.

It's not surprising that Noah's comments have caused somewhat of a stir in the cycling world. One excellent commentary was offered by Cyclingnews. In it, they quoted former pro and Team Type 1 director Frédéric Moncassin.

He offers an airtight argument as to what doping should not be legalised; "Doping is illegal because it's not good for athletes' health. To deliver great spectacle is good, but you shouldn't put your health in danger."

He also dispels the idea that controlled doping should be allowed; "It would be the same... All riders would take certain products, but some would try to take something else in order to go faster. Stupid things like Riccò..."

One comment I did not agree with, however, was related to his comment that if doping was legalised, then "we'd get about the same results. A champion is a champion. Some won because they cheated, but many won because they are great champions."

I wouldn't disagree with this comment if I hadn't just read Matt Rendell's excellent biography, The Death of Marco Pantani. In it, he quotes Australian research on EPO use; 

The type and quantity of globin chain synthesised during the polychromatophilic stage, which occurs after the stem cell has proliferated under the influence of r-EPO, is under genetic control and thus can be expected to show individual variation.
If that more or less washed over you, that's fine. The essence of the statement is that individuals respond differently to EPO use and therefore EPO is more effective for some than others. Therefore, EPO use doesn't level the playing field, as identical treatment won't generate identical gains among athletes.

Of course, I see this as a moot point, as even if this wasn't the case I still wouldn't support doping (as there are plenty of other reasons not to). But it is a fairly solid argument against those such as Noah who are pushing for the magic potion.

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