THE WRONG TRACK

Have you ever wondered why some sports seem to be bedevilled with problems with drugs while others have few if any drugs scandals? Have you ever, for example, heard of a golfer failing a drugs test or of being accused of taking illegal substances to improve performance?



By Paddy Briggs

Published: Wed 14 Jan 2004, 1:23 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:41 AM

Now golf is a sport where you might think that the temptations to find a chemical way to help you play better were ever present. Students of the game know that at the higher levels success is much less attributable to sheer technical skill than it is to the ability to hold your nerve under pressure. On those rare occasions when Tiger Woods misses an "easy" putt or drives wildly off the tee into the distant rough it is not because this technically outstanding golfer has forgotten what to do. No, the Tiger's rare lapses are because even he feels the pressure sometimes (remember the eighteenth hole in the final round of Desert Classic in 2001!). But it would never even occur to Tiger (or any other professional) to take some drug to calm his nerves or to eliminate the jitters -although no doubt such things do exist.

The same applies to top motor sport. In the modern era it has never even been suggested that the competitors in Formula 1 rely on anything other than skill and physical fitness to prepare themselves for a race. And this is a sport where the physical demands on the driver are enormous and where - like golf - there are no doubt substances available, which would help concentration or stamina.

My final example of a largely drug free sport is international Rugby. I say "largely" here because there was a drugs issue involving some of the Romanian team before the World Cup but this was very much an isolated case and the exception that proves the rule. No top rugby player has ever been accused of using performance enhancing drugs.

So why are golf, motor sport and rugby drugs free while athletics, soccer, tennis, baseball, cycling and too many other sports have been struggling with a drugs problem for years?

It is not, I would suggest, because performance could not be enhanced in these sports through drug taking nor is it because the drug testing is better or because the penalties for abuse are greater. It is, I think, because the over-riding culture of these sports is much more morally robust than is the case in the other sports - simply said golfers, racing drivers and rugby players are not cheats. Yes, they and the teams in which they play will do all they can to stretch some of the rules from time to time and yes, gamesmanship is not unknown! But it is virtually inconceivable that any performer would risk his career, and bring the good name of the sport he loves into disrepute by getting involved in drugs.

Cricket is a sport which is hardly untarnished by scandal but it too is largely unsullied by drugs. The Shane Warne case a year ago was that of a rather vain and arrogant man behaving foolishly rather than that of a desperate sportsman trying to find an illegal way to improve his performance. Warne was silly, and paid the price, but he was not evil.

Evil is a strong word to use when talking of sportsmen but when it comes to the use of performance enhancing drugs I think that it is apposite - and I certainly do not believe them when they say that they did not know what they were doing! The current scandals in tennis and athletics surround the use of the banned steroid nandrolone, and the accused tennis star Greg Rusedski has claimed that tests on 47 of the world's top 120 tennis players have shown them to have used this drug. We shall see whether this claim has any basis in fact but if it turns out to be the case that tennis players and other athletes have "inadvertently" been taking this substance in so-called "food supplements" I would certainly not absolve them of responsibility. If they were in any doubt as to whether the products they took were legal (and surely there must have been doubt) they simply should not have taken them and the authorities should have ensured that they didn't. If golfers, Formula 1 drivers and rugby players can have moral fibre not to cheat, and the common sense to avoid risk if there is any doubt, why not other sportsmen?


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