Sport doping needs a rethink, or athletes will continue
to perform within a vague, contradictory system which fails to
expose cheats, an Oxford University ethics professor says.
Prof Julian Savulescu delivered a public lecture at Dunedin
Hospital last night, offering an alternative to the World
Anti-Doping Agency's zero-tolerance policy on the use of
He said the agency's guidelines were vague and contradictory,
and history had shown they were failing to expose cheats or
provide a level playing field.
''There's nothing wrong with adopting a zero-tolerance
approach except that it's going to continue to fail, as it
has failed, and there's no particularly good reason ethically
to have that ban. Maybe another approach is better on a
number of considerations.''
Prof Savulescu said most high-level doping involved athletes
altering their levels of red blood cells and other
naturally-occurring compounds within the range of normal,
healthy human variation.
He termed it physiological doping and said because people's
naturally occurring levels were different, and their
receptors to enhancing practices were different, it was
''virtually impossible'' to detect whether they had doped.
''They're not taking alien substances like cocaine. They're
taking things which are naturally in the body.''
Caffeine, painkillers, glucose and other things enhanced
performance but were not banned, which was nonsensical, he
Allowing physiological doping within levels defined as normal
and healthy, for example a red blood cell count of up to 50%,
would actually create a more fair competitive environment and
see testing become 90% effective.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong was one of many athletes guilty of
physiological doping which could not be proven, despite 200
tests,'' he pointed out.
''The current policy is failing and it's destroying the
spectacle of sport because you don't know whether people are
clean or doping. Paradoxically, it's actually worse for
athletes. It creates unfairness and it's against the spirit
of sport,'' he said.
''They tried to reallocate his [Armstrong's] medals, as there
were 21 podium finishes, and 20 out of 21 can't be
reallocated because so many [cyclists] have been implicated
that there's no-one [clean] to give them to.''
Prof Savulescu said it was important rules were set and
athletes medically supervised, but suggested the landscape of
sport was evolving and perhaps the approach to doping should
evolve with it.
Dave Gerrard, an associate professor of medicine at Otago and
former Olympian, was at the lecture and opposed many of Prof
Savulescu's points. He said doping tests had advanced and
Australasian athletes had, in the past two decades,
maintained a ''very clean slate''.