WADA Ya Know About the Spirit of Sport?

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is considering a ban on the use of altitude tents and altitude rooms, which simulate the low-oxygen atmosphere of high elevations with the aim of encouraging red blood cell production and boosting endurance. WADA's ethics committee deems the widely used training method contrary to "the spirit of sport." As I've said, I don't really understand why performance-enhancing drugs violate "the spirit of sport." But if they do, it is hard to see why performance-enhancing rooms don't. They seem at least as artificial to me; if anything, steroids are more natural.

But saunas, cold soaks, vitamin capsules, and weight training are artificial too. None of these methods is cheating unless it's against the rules. If everyone is allowed to use it, the competition is still fair (leaving aside differences in natural endowments). In fact, banning high-altitude simulations arguably would make contests less fair, giving an advantage to athletes who happen to live at high elevations or who can afford to move there. "Ninety-five percent of the medals that have been won at Olympic Games have been won by people who train at or live at altitude," a running coach tells The New York Times.

I gather that "the spirit of sport" is not synonymous with fairness; it's more of an aesthetic judgment. Still, why would it permit athletes to improve their performance by moving to a mountain but not by retrofitting their bedrooms with a filtering system?

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  1. I personally cant wait till the days gargantuan half humans half machines, with weapon implants, hyped on performance ehnahcing and rage enducing chemicals battle it out in the ring and on the field. Eh I can dream cant I, maybe then I’ll actually pay attention to sports.

  2. Just saw on CNN.com that FLoyd Landis, winner of this year’s Tour de France, tested positive for testosterone. They’ll test a second sample, which he claims will show that the initial result was either in error or the result of his natural testosterone level. Which to me, raises a similar question to Jacobs: If he can naturally produce levels of testosterone that are only achievable to other athletes through doping, is that fair? Is it fair to keep others from doping to keep up? What if they could dramatically alter their diet to achieve such levels. Is that doping?

  3. Just saw on CNN.com that FLoyd Landis, winner of this year’s Tour de France, tested positive for testosterone. They’ll test a second sample, which he claims will show that the initial result was either in error or the result of his natural testosterone level. Which to me, raises a similar question to Jacobs: If he can naturally produce levels of testosterone that are only achievable to other athletes through doping, is that fair? Is it fair to keep others from doping to keep up? What if they could dramatically alter their diet to achieve such levels. Is that doping?

  4. There are reports that Tour de France winner Floyd Landis tested positive for testosterone. his team acknowledges it. So sad.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/more/specials/tour_de_france/2006/07/27/landis.doping/index.html?cnn=yes

  5. Just saw on CNN.com that FLoyd Landis, winner of this year’s Tour de France, tested positive for testosterone. They’ll test a second sample, which he claims will show that the initial result was either in error or the result of his natural testosterone level. Which to me, raises a similar question to Jacobs: If he can naturally produce levels of testosterone that are only achievable to other athletes through doping, is that fair? Is it fair to keep others from doping to keep up? What if they could dramatically alter their diet to achieve such levels. Is that doping?

  6. GregA,

    I believe that it is the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone that is the issue, not his overall level of testosterone.

    From the VeloNews (http://www.velonews.com/news/fea/10591.0.html):

    The Swiss-based Phonak team said it was notified by the UCI on Wednesday that Landis’ sample showed “an unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone” when he was tested after stage 17 of the race last Thursday.

  7. Just saw on CNN.com that FLoyd Landis, winner of this year’s Tour de France, tested positive for testosterone. They’ll test a second sample, which he claims will show that the initial result was either in error or the result of his natural testosterone level. Which to me, raises a similar question to Jacobs: If he can naturally produce levels of testosterone that are only achievable to other athletes through doping, is that fair? Is it fair to keep others from doping to keep up? What if they could dramatically alter their diet to achieve such levels. Is that doping?

  8. Any game or sport consists of arbitrary rules. While I deplore political point-scoring and peer-pressure to force the bodies that set and enforce rules to take up anti-doping rules, I have no truck with any organization that adopts rules or tests, etc.

    If a person uses any available modification or biomedical technology to be able to sustain a ride at 45 MPH on a bicycle course, more power to ’em, end of story. If, however, they want their peers to acknowlege their feat and prowess, then they need to conform to what their peers have established. I could go outside and set the “Land Speed Record for Swedesboro New Jersey on July 27 2006” if I wanted to, but who would care?

    If you want to play Tournament Monopoly, you don’t get to use “house rules” to put bail on Free Parking, even if you find it more fun or you do better at the game with it.

    Same thing in organized-sports doping rules.

  9. All I can imagine is the french yelling “See, see, zee Americans are all cheatehrs”

    blah, who cares about bike racing anyway. Thats why we invented automobiles,so we could actually get somewhere in a day.

  10. Before the World Cup this year, the commentariat were very dismissive of Ecuador’s chances based on the fact that they play all their home qualifiers about a mile-and-a-half above sea level and are only able to win at altitude.

    One time, the US National team played Bolivia nearly TWO miles above sea level. By the 60th minute, players were reporting loss of central vision and massive headaches. Other altitude sickness effects followed after the game for just about everyone. That’s AFTER training at Big Bear Lake in California for over a week.

    Then there’s Mexico City, about a mile above sea level with disgusting pollution mixed in. Mexico almost never loses in the Azteca.

    Training with such devices can only do so much for you AT ALTITUDE. It may help you at sea level, but once you’re up in real altitude conditions, things get dicey in a hurry if you’re a lowlander.

  11. “In fact, banning high-altitude simulations arguably would make contests less fair, giving an advantage to athletes who happen to live at high elevations or who can afford to move there. “Ninety-five percent of the medals that have been won at Olympic Games have been won by people who train at or live at altitude,” a running coach tells The New York Times.”

    FWIW, the US National Training Center for Olympic athletes is in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with an elevation of just over 6,000 feet plus plenty of ready access to mountainous areas such as Pikes Peak which has an elevation of 14,000 feet above sea level.

  12. Other altitude sickness effects followed after the game for just about everyone. That’s AFTER training at Big Bear Lake in California for over a week.

    That’s because it takes three months to really adapt to altitude.

  13. the reality is this. elite athletes (and many not so elite athletes) have always, in great #’s used performance enhancing drugs. some of those drugs are within the rules of competition. many aren’t. frankly, i think the advent of gene doping will REALLY up the ante on pharmaceutical performance enhancement

    what i find disgusting, from a libertarian angle, is congress’ meddling into pro baseball, etc. telling them what their administrative drug policy is.

    given that AAS (anabolic androgenic steroids) are illegal without a prescription, and a controlled substance, is one thing. i don’t agree with that, but it is the law. (by the way, both the DEA and AMA testified AGAINST making steroids controlled substances in congressional hearings. it was the ‘save the children’ ninnies that pushed it after the ben jonson positive test)

    but the idea that congress should tell any PRIVATE business how they should discipline their employees and what their drug policies is – is totally bogus

    i could understand in a matter involving interstate commerce AND that had a clear safety issue – like policies involving truckers and CDL’s.

    but why congress should have ANY say in what pro baseball’s internal policy is – that’s ridiculous

  14. “There are some people who are in a sense geographically fortunate,” Murray said.

    So if it’s not “natural” it’s not in the spirit of the sport? Adapting training and facilities in “unfortunate” geographic locations should be illegal? I assume indoor skating rinks, domed stadiums, snowmaking machines and artificial turf are on the way out.

  15. I’ve read elsewhere that Landis’ testosterone levels may be explained by his (approved before the race) use of cortisone shots to manage the pain in his hip.

  16. I told you so.

  17. The purpose of sport is to see if you can beat the other guy. The essence of sport is putting in all sort of handicaps into the competition called “rules”.

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