Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: drugs

Sport Geek #75: the case for legalising drugs in sport

This week, a polemic. I’ve been thinking about Maria Sharapova’s return to the circuit, the plan to wipe world records in athletics, and drugs generally in sports. The truth is, I can’t see a way out, and I don’t think I’m alone. The road goes nowhere. So the conclusion I keep coming to is: make performance enhancing drugs legal.

This is clearly not a popular view. But let’s try it out for a moment. I’m going to look at the main objections and try and unpack this. Bear with me.

Testing doesn’t work

Of course testing works on a basic level, but the big picture is testing clearly doesn’t work. We have a situation where retrospective testing has caught a whole bunch of athletes from London 2012 and Beijing 2008 years later. Is that good? Not really. The clean athletes have missed their moment of glory, the public has moved on, and the history books just look messy.

Also, as pointed out elsewhere, most major drug scandals are due to whistleblowers, not testing: Russia, Lance Armstrong, Balco. Even Ben Jonson was (probably) set up (he got busted on a drug he wasn’t taking, apparently).

Added to that, testing catches about 1 per cent of athletes. Whereas most estimates put non-approved drug use at around 30 to 40 per cent. It’s woeful. Even if we got to catching a third of athletes, there are generations that got away with it. The war was lost a long time ago. And in the future? Continue reading

Who didn’t get the memo about Flo Jo?

Uncanny timing laced with irony. A few weeks ago, as Maria Sharapova was ditched by various sponsors for taking a banned performance-enhancing drug, various adverts appeared from Chinese electronics giant Huawei featuring no less than Florence Griffith Joiner.

Yes, Flo Jo. Still the women’s 100m and 200m record holder, who died nearly 20 years ago, and for whom drug taking was never proven, but is widely accepted. The ads are still running in places such as the FT,  Wall St Journal, CNN and the Economist.

There’s some very tenuous blurb to draw a link between Flo Jo’s running philosophy and Huawei. Here’s how it goes:

Florence Griffith Joyner – smiling as she crosses the finish line. She set the women’s world record for the fastest 100-meter dash nearly thirty years ago, a record that hasn’t been broken since. The 100-meter dash only lasts for about 10 seconds. Joyner once said that runners mentally split each second into 100 units, exerting a massive amount of effort to increase their speed by one tiny unit at a time. An improvement of 0.01, although seemingly small, is a huge accomplishment.Huawei’s people have persevered through decades of hard work, relentlessly pursuing the technological breakthroughs that will usher in our future information society.

Combined with this useless copy is possibly the weirdest picture of Flo Jo that you could create. It looks like a 6-year-old was given free rein with Microsoft Paint, rather than anything a professional designer could come up with.

Flo Jo, in a picture that never happened.

While the Chinese have a history of drug-taking athletes, especially in swimming, one of their biggest companies can’t actually want to be associated with this kind of reputation, can it? Flo Jo is one of the stupidest choices you can imagine. There are plenty of clean athletes that Huawei could have picked. Flo Jo is still the record holder, but that’s NOT a good recommendation. Most of the women’s world records from 1988 – the year before out of competition testing started – are tainted.

Wasn’t there a meeting? Didn’t someone do a quick Google search and point out the rumours? Didn’t someone say “drugs”?

You might think so, given that in on version of the campaign, readers can leave comments. Aside from some racist crap, one commenter said:

FGJ is not such a good icon for your campaign, she was not making her world record on bread and peanutbutter alone….

Another put it more succinctly:

Didn’t. Flo jo die at 38 after a lifetime abusing performance enhancing drugs?

Quite. This is possibly the worst campaign you could come up with. Every element is bad. Perhaps Maria Sharapova should give Huawei a call.

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