In a New York Times front page story today, social science researchers report that 29 percent of the track and field athletes who participated in the 2011 world championships and 45 percent of those in the 2011 Pan-Arab games admitted in an anonymous survey to using banned performance enchancement technologies in the past 12 months. The Times notes that only 2 percent of the enhancement drug tests administered on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are positive. The structure of the survey would make it easy for athletes to lie, so the researchers actually think that their figures are an underestimate.
Apparently WADA doesn't want the public to know about these findings:
The researchers were eager to publish their results, which they believed would expose a harsh reality of modern sports: that far more athletes are doping than might be imagined, and that current drug-testing protocols catch few of the cheaters. But after a final draft of the study was submitted to the antidoping agency, the organization ultimately told the researchers they could not publish their findings at this time, according to three of the researchers, who requested anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the agency. The agency said track and field's world governing body needed to review the findings first, the researchers said.
So what do these findings mean?
John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor who is an expert on performance-enhancing drugs, said the study's findings dispelled the notion that doping was a deviant behavior among a few athletes.
"Either the sport is recruiting huge numbers of deviants," he said, "or this is simply routine behavior being engaged in by, more or less, normal people."
Take a look at my Reason colleague Nick Gillespie's excellent column, "Let Them Shoot Up: In Defense of Alex Rodriguez," in which he attacks the manufactured hypocrisy and outrage that accompanies the use of performance enhancing technologies in sport:
Drugs are bad, mmkay? Except when they're not. Use a statin to reduce your cholesterol, an SSRI to level your moods, Viagra in the boudoir, Adderall to goose your SAT…that's just being a responsible citizen. But use steroids and HGH and pep pills to make yourself run faster, jump higher, or grow stronger in pursuit of Olympian perfection—well, that's just wrong. Even if they are widely available and widely used in every sport. Even if they are not the difference between being a shlub off the street and an elite athlete.
Bottom line: If a majority of elite athletes are already using enhancements, change the rules and let eveyone have access. It's safer and fairer for everybody and may even make sports more interesting.