August 14, 2008
Liberty and Gold

It's something I've thought a few times myself: if it's just about impossible to police athletic doping, why bother? There would absolutely have to be some changes in policy regarding age of participation. We don't want 14 year olds messing with this stuff, after all.

The best counter argument I saw over at Slashdot was "well, if we make it legal, they'll dope themselves to within six inches of death because they have to." While valid, I did think of a counter. Many auto racing rules* are meant to address exactly this sort of thing: if they didn't exist, teams would run patently unsafe vehicles simply because they had to in order to win. By making your rules pro-safety instead of anti-something (speed or dope), the incentives get turned around and, at least in auto racing, the rules work.

Would it work in people like it does in machines? I dunno, but it might be worth examining.

* Oh stop groaning! You knew I was going to say it! Sit down and listen.

Posted by scott at August 14, 2008 10:52 AM

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It's a very interesting point - assuming that the Olympics had a universal age limit. How many of the competitors are under 18? With these occuring every 4 years, many competitors have to be (specifically with gymnastics, other sports may vary). By allowing some sort of doping, we could take a sport like gymnastics where it traditionally favors the younger types and move it out of their range so that only the older ones can hit.

In terms of other sports (say football, for example), this could lead to more injuries on players that generate huge sums of money for their owners. As it is, the NFL is getting very wuss-ish with their rules. If a player can make a new type of play not often seen before, that's regarded as a great thing. Until it injures another team's star player. Then it's a "new dangerous thing" regardless of whether or not the potential for injury is any more prevalent based on a sound statistical study.

It's a very interesting dynamic. Now that we've gotten rid of the amateur portion, things have become more interesting. Maybe it'd be better to go back to amateurs rather than letting the pros in? Then let the pros dope all they want.

Posted by: ronaprhys on August 14, 2008 11:36 AM

Making the rules pro-safety instead of anti-doping would work pretty well in the US. For international events like the Olympics, however, many countries could not give less of a shit about the safety of their athletes if they actually tried. Honor/shame cultures traditionally hold victory more precious than life itself, and they will pump their athletes full of crap that will make them keel over dead on the winners' podium, and actually take pride in their athlete's "sacrifice" as long as they died with a gold medal clenched in their fist.

The only thing that can stop them from doing this is the humiliation of being proven to have broken the rules, and even then only because of the risk of international censure (again, the lives of their athletes isn't even a blip on their radar). I'm afraid the only way in such cases is to make better tests, and to make the refusal to submit to them a disqualification offense.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian on August 14, 2008 03:46 PM

The point is valid, but on consideration I'm not sure it would matter. The tests would be for safe levels of things, which (AFAIK) would make it impossible to dope someone to near-death levels in an undetectable fashion. Screen them before and after they compete, sort of thing.

Posted by: scott on August 15, 2008 08:13 AM

They could do that now with the current substances. Simply test every single athlete prior to the start of their events then after. It'd be a bitch for someone like Phelps and some of the longer team events, but as long as the tests are reliable for trace amounts of substances, it shouldn't be an issue.

But instead of going random, test every single person prior and maybe just the top 6 winners (that way if someone was caught we could drop them down and get a clean winner).

But in terms of punishment, if it's an individual athlete, they lose their medal. If it appears that there was some sort of approval or direction from their Olympic Committee or team, then that team or Olympic Committee is banned from the next Olympics (or next two) as well as all events in between. That should be harsh enough to stop it.

Posted by: ronaprhys on August 15, 2008 08:27 AM
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