Everybody hates drug cheats. But that doesn’t seem to stop it happening, and it’s easy enough to see why.
I just finished the Bridge to Brisbane 10km fun run. I was doing really well on my training, and seemed certain to beat my personal best when I started getting knee pains – nothing really bad, but enough that I stopped before it got any worse. I got some help from the physio and did lots of stretches, but it was still a problem. So, on the day, I just took a couple of ibuprofen, and did my best to ignore it. And, if I could have taken a pill that would fix my knees for me, I would have done so.
Am I, then, a budding drug cheat?
fn1. updated My friend and colleague Flavio Menezes (who beat me by 3 minutes) advises me that my time was 53:20, which is (just) a PB. My knees advise me that they will forgive me just this once. And, I should mention that, thanks to a series of miscalculations, i did the run with no assistance from caffeine, the wonder drug on which I rely for all things. So, with good knees and strong coffee, I can still hope to break 50.
More relevant than the official classification is my motivation. I don’t want to get an unfair advantage, just to do the best I can without being hampered by injury. But of course I wouldn’t have the injury if I hadn’t trained for the race. And the main function of a lot of the banned drugs is to allow you to recover faster from training injuries, and therefore to train harder. If I can justify taking a drug to achieve a PB in a fun run, how much stronger is the case as it would present itself to a full-time athlete, even leaving aside the financial rewards of success.
Then there’s the question of long-term damage. In my case, the big risk is not that I will suffer ill effects from drugs but that, if I ignore the warnings from pain, I’ll wreck my knees. That raises some questions about the most reasonable argument for laws against performance-enhancing drugs, namely that they have bad long-run effects on athletes’ health. The problem is, so do a lot of the sports themselves, and the training required for them. Up to a point, that’s obviously outweighed by the health benefits of physical activity, but I suspect a lot of training regimes go past that point.
I don’t really have an answer for this. I think it would probably be better to allow some supervised use of recovery-promoting drugs, while recognising that this wouldn’t stop people going outside the rules. The idea, as with drug policy in general, would be to focus on harm minimisation.
Hopefully, with limited drug use permitted, the additional benefits of unauthorised drug use would be small enough that the deterrent effect of penalties would be enhanced. On the other hand, I expect that if some drug use were legal, detecting cheating would become harder. Any thoughts?