meArticle by James Fairbourn

The BBC Panorama documentary screened tonight will not come as a massive shock to Eightlane readers. We have been talking about the systematic abuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions for a number of years now. And, whilst one has to wonder what the version of the documentary looked like prior to libel lawyers watching it, it does at least bring the serious questions we have been asking to a primetime audience.

The micro-dosing of EPO and how it is virtually impossible to detect was covered at length in Tyler Hamilton’s book ‘The Secret Race’ about his time with Lance Armstrong and the fact that the blood-booster improves performance should not come as a surprise. The outrage that will surely follow this Panorama will no doubt side step the fact that Mo Farah’s breakthrough came when after he joined up with Alberto Salazar – the documentary uncovered no evidence that Farah has committed any offence.

The problem with all this is that – a little like Amazon and Google tax arrangements – it is highly likely Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project will be able to hide behind the ‘medically necessary’ argument. Eightlane has been outspoken in its criticism of the TUE system and has heaped scorn on high profile endurance athletes who suddenly discovered that they had exercise induced asthma some way into their careers. We (and many others) have argued that all professional athletes should be forced to publish lists of the drugs that they take to allow the public to know what ‘help’ they are getting.

The downfalls of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell was further evidence of the issues that the current system encourages. They both argued (and I believe them) that they thought the stimulant they were taking was legal. Think about that for a moment. There are plenty of stimulants out there that are perfectly legal and that many athletes take willingly. It should be noted that the fastest man of all time – Usain Bolt – once told BBC Radio Five Live that he takes ‘only vitamins’. We would love to know exactly what those vitamins are.

There is precisely no incentive for the IAAF to do anything about this mess – after all, anti-doping laws allow for it. Do they reveal that the performances we are in awe of are actually the result of a battle in the laboratory to stay the right side of an ever moving ethical line? Whilst the revelations about Salazar will come as news to the wider public, it has been common knowledge within the sport that his techniques are ethically questionable. Why then – in 2013 – did British Athletics decide that it was appropriate to hire him as a consultant? Were his comments regarding athletes ‘needing’ EPO in order to win an Olympic medal questioned? What message did they think such a recruitment was sending out? Has Salazar been supervised at all times when dealing with British athletes? What measures are in place to stop his alleged practice spreading over the Atlantic potentially landing British youngsters in the same situation as Galen Rupp? There are very serious questions for a Governing Body that seems to have veered away from its deliverance of grassroots development in pursuit of Olympic medals at any cost instead.

Aside from all the cynicism, away from the ‘I told you so’ comments (mainly from this website) and separate from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will no doubt dominate the sport’s coverage over the next few days – we should remember: this is only sport. Any doctors found to be knowingly signing prescriptions simply to enhance athletic prowess are a disgrace to medicine and should be investigated, struck off and imprisoned. Medical science is a discipline that should be dedicated the restoration of health and the care of the sick rather than the pointless pursuit of a few seconds here and there. The potential long term damage that such unnecessary pharmaceutical intervention could cause is terrifying.

An Olympic Gold medal is an accomplishment that many dream of but a very select few achieve. The more and more we find out about this mucky sport of ours, the more and more it becomes clear that in order to achieve that dream – you need to take risks that are simply not worth it. Enjoy the pain of training and competition; enjoy the satisfaction of doing your best. But always remember – for God’s sake remember – this is only sport. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter.

Alberto Salazar, Galen Rupp and Mo Farah deny ever breaching WADA rules.

  • John Bicourt

    James, good synopsis generally, but in the end it really does matter!