INDR editorial, December 2017

 

The fight against doping seems to be won

Editorial by Ask Vest Christiansen and John Gleaves

It is a hectic time of year. But even if the sprint towards the semester finish line can suck out most of our energy, the IOC’s decision to ban Russia from competing at next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, probably has not escaped anyone’s attention. Still, Russian athletes who can “be considered clean to the satisfaction of [the IOC] panel” will be allowed to compete in South Korea under a neutral IOC flag (IOC Statement 2017).[1]

The decision follows the investigation headed up by the former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid and an IOC commission, led by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald. The latter group’s work was instigated by the whistle blowing of Grigory Rodchenkov, who was director of Russia's anti-doping laboratory during Sochi 2014. At the INDR conference in August we briefly saw a clip from the Netflix documentary, Icarus, in which Rodchenkov first revealed details on Russia’s doping program. The accusations in the documentary was subsequently investigated by Oswald’s group, who gave its full backing to the evidence provided by Rodchenkov.

It has been quite bizarre to see the process unfolding and learning the details in what has taken place. Firstly, because the story told by Rodchenkov in Icarus and in the New York Times[2] and the evidence in the reports comes across as a complete throwback to the cold war full-scale state sponsored doping in East Germany and the Soviet Union. Everything is sanctioned, supported, and administered from the top. Secondly, in light of the revelations it is hard not to feel the heavy irony of the discussions on anti-doping the last ten years. Take for instance the USADA’s Reasoned Decision, which claimed that Lance Armstrong was the mastermind behind ”a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history” (United States Anti-Doping Agency, 2012, p. 10).[3] Well, perhaps it was not that advanced after all. At least Armstrong’s teammate, Tyler Hamilton, described it not as “a sophisticated medical setup”, but as something that more “looked like a junior-high science experiment’ (Hamilton & Coyle, 2012, p. 34). By comparison, INDR members Paul Dimeo and Thomas Hunt along with Richard Horburry show the extent as well as the complexity of the East German doping system that lasted nearly three decades (Dimeo, Hunt, & Horbury, 2011).

Hence, it sounds a little bit like history repeating itself when IOC president Thomas Bach, in relation to the exclusion of Russia, said: “This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport. [The exclusion of Russia] should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system” (BBC, 2017). Really? It seems that we have heard these lines before. Whether it was Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, East Germany, or Knud Enemark Jensen, Bach’s words sound familiar to what has so far proven ineffective in past cases: more surveillance, new testing equipment, refined laboratory techniques and a promise to throw out the “bad apples”.

To put Bach’s statement into perspective, let us remind ourselves of what happened in the 1955 edition of the Tour de France. For the third time the Tour went over Mt Ventoux. In the optimistic pharmacological spirit after World War II where many felt that the new pharmacological technologies could relief any suffering, too many riders were taking too much medicine. The consequences of the haphazard play with the new wonder drugs were very visible for the Tour’s young doctor Pierre Dumas on the slopes of Ventoux. He was feverishly attending one rider after the other. Worst off was the French rider Jean Malléjac who almost died on Ventoux but was saved by Dumas. The following days saw new regulations and the race directors send out a communiqué describing new rules. A journalist from the daily L’Équipe, Georges Duthen, wrote in an article “The fight against doping seems to be won. The decisions made by the Tour organisers has been put into force with immediate effect” (Jakobsen, 2004, p. 254).

Given the number of times the IOC has declared “Mission Accomplished” for its war on doping, Bach might want to rethink his response to this latest doping crisis.

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In our next newsletter, we hope to say a little bit more about expanding the network collaboration, we discussed at the business meeting at the INDR conference in August. Werner Pitch and Ask Vest Christiansen is currently trying the Trello platform out to see how and in what ways it may facilitate further collaboration on concrete projects. If it works, we will invite people who are interested to join us in the spring.

Also in this newsletter, we have a commentary by Cornelia Blank on an interesting study her group is doing on protective factors against doping.

 

Enjoy the holiday season everyone!

 

 

 

References

 

BBC. (2017). Russian doping: IOC bans Russia from 2018 Winter Olympics. BBC Sport. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/sport/winter-sports/42242007

Dimeo, P., Hunt, T. M., & Horbury, R. (2011). The Individual and the State: A Social Historical Analysis of the East German ‘Doping System’. Sport in History, 31(2), 218-237. doi:10.1080/17460263.2011.590026

Hamilton, T., & Coyle, D. (2012). The secret race: inside the hidden world of the Tour de France: doping, cover-ups, and winning at all costs. London: Bantam.

Jakobsen, J. (2004). Le Tour. Sejre, drømme og frygtelige nederlag i 100 år (1 ed.). København: Rosinante.

United States Anti-Doping Agency. (2012). REASONED DECISION OF THE UNITED STATES ANTI-DOPING AGENCY ON DISQUALIFICATION AND INELIGIBILITY. Retrieved from Colrado Springs: