Sunday, July 30, 2006

Political underpinnings

Floating in the pool with my wife, we mused that to be soft on doping was like being soft on crime, or being a cut-and-runner in either Vietnam or Iraq -- just not politically possible without some cathartic event. In this blog, a bio-ethicist makes the modest suggestion that a World Pro-Doping Agency be created to make the argument for the other side. Otherwise, all we get to hear is Dick Pound's pontificating.

The moral outrage of the zero tolerance position is clearly as much a political problem as an ethical one. We allow riders to take antibiotics, and spin tales how this isn't performance enhancing -- as if their performance wouldn't be worse if they weren't taking them. Ah, but that is to get back to normal levels, we say. Gatlin's first 'positive' was for a drug he'd been taking since he was nine years old (obviously part of a Ferrari-like plot to raise an army of super-runners), for which no slack or sanity was allowed. Yes, asthma is epidemic, but now 25% of the peloton "has" it and gets waivers for things like albuterol. At the same time, marijuana use is also disallowed in events for which it couldn't possibly be performance enhancing. So, the rationales limit athletes to, well, basically being Christian Scientists, I guess, and that seems easier and clearer than applying intellegence and judgement.

Ray Cipollini writes an amazing piece on the dailypeloton considering some saner options - but they are too rational to be considered politically acceptable.

I'm not going to argue for allowing plainly dangerous practices. Neveretheless, the idea of having some things be acceptable when done under transparent and safe conditions seems worth investigating. It will be opposed by the same folks who are against birth control, abortion, and needle-exchange programs, for the same reasons.

On the other hand, consider the example of rules in NASCAR. These are intended to intentionally restrict innovation and cost escalation. They keep competition relatively even, which is good for the show, and the rules get jiggled to enhance partity often on short notice. Crews traditionally take a creative view of the rules, and when they get caught in violation, sanctions are real, but not draconian. Would it be a better idea to give a lifetime ban to a driver or crew chief on a second career violation? Would that really be good for the sport?