Politics, hacking, ethics and power

Drugs in sport

 

Following the Russian doping scandal involving a state sponsored cheating regime, the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) recommended the Russian team be banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics. That simple – and justifiable – decision has caused improbable and added complications in the increasingly addled world of performance enhancing drugs.

It seemed that with Russia’s mass deception, the credibility of sport could scarcely fall lower. Then, in Rio, British 10,000 metres and 5,000 metres gold medallist Mo Farah, who had an association with an “unofficial facilitator” for banned substances, Jama Aden, ran with such magisterial dominance that it prompted people into a new way of thinking. Testing positive no longer mattered. Suspicion was enough. People no longer had to believe in records or times. Rio became a post-fact Olympic world where, more than ever, evidence and the certainty of scientific analysis were no longer required to shroud an athlete or team in suspicion. Their performances, friendships, coaching choices and especially their nationalities were enough to question credibility.

Now the release of medical data by the “Fancy Bears” hacking group has moved sport into even more vexed territory. The attacks by the allegedly Russian-linked hackers on Wada files, and the deliberate leaking of private medical documents, has added another level of disquiet as the Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) of athletes, including tennis player Serena Williams, Tour de France winning cyclist Bradley Wiggins and Olympic flyweight boxing champion Nicola Adams, were made public.

TUEs are given when athletes are medically approved to take substances that would cause them to test positive. But the allegation that Wiggins strategically used TUEs to enhance his performances in key races also shone light on a new aspect of sport – legitimate cheating. The discussion now turns towards whether athletes should reveal their medical records for scrutiny, all in the name of fair play.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has used the episode to undermine Wada and has suggested setting up its own integrity unit. This is about IOC power and control, not anti doping efficiency. But the leaks, in turn, pose ethical questions around the privacy of athletes and this week IAAF president and former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe pointed to where that could lead. Athletes having to reveal cancer treatment or infertility, both of which may involve hormone treatment, takes sport to a nasty place.

Anti-doping now resides between the blurred lines of international politics, computer attacks and private medical records flapping around cyberspace, all of it a clear attempt to undermine an underfunded and already endangered Wada system. The fear is that that may be irreversible.

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