Banning sports drugs and athletes who take them “unjustifiable” argues expert
Personal View: Testing athletes, and banning those who take drugs, is unjustifiable
Feature: Passport to clean competition
Banning sports drugs and the athletes who take them is both immoral and unnecessary, and should be stopped, argues a senior doctor and clinical scientist in an article published on bmj.com today.
Sam Shuster, Emeritus Professor of Dermatology at the University of Newcastle says there is “no acceptable proof they improve competitive performance” and he asks why help from drugs is considered cheating when we allow specialised equipment and help from others.
“What makes a covert team of sports specialists fair, and taking a pill cheating? Why is training in a low oxygen chamber acceptable but not erythropoietin,” which achieves a similar effect, he asks?
He acknowledges concerns about drug dangers but considers that a separate issue and says “there appears to be no justification for the case made against the vase pharmacopeia of drugs banned for competitive sport.” And the argument that their covert use is “cheating” is simply answered by making access open, he adds.
He also questions the evidence that sports drugs actually work, saying that studies rely on extrapolations instead of controlled trials of the actual endpoint of winning in competition. “The belief that sports drugs are effective has never been proved, and never will be unless a drug is found that produces an endpoint difference large enough for detection by simple studies," he writes.
“Because there is no good reason for not using sports drugs, and no acceptable proof they improve competitive performance, banning them is immoral and unnecessary and should be stopped. Or, at least, the rules should change to ban and test for only those drugs that have been proved effective,” he concludes. “Instead we’ve acquired the biggest ever drug testing laboratories; so in addition to the games played by athletes, we can follow the games played with them.”
An accompanying feature suggests that "biological passports" may deter athletes - and the sports doctors who help them - from using banned substances.