[Paleopsych] NYT: A Lament for Ancient Games in Modern World of Doping
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Tue Aug 3 17:39:57 UTC 2004
A Lament for Ancient Games in Modern World of Doping
New York Times, 4.8.3
By CLAUDIA DREIFUS
Thomas H. Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a
bioethics research group in Garrison, N.Y., spends a large
part of his day considering the culture, philosophy and
ethics of the sporting world.
As the author of several papers on the use of science in
sports, Dr. Murray, a social psychologist, has served on
the United States Olympic Committee's anti-doping panel, an
experience he describes as "the most frustrating work I've
He also recently became chairman of the World Anti-Doping
Agency's ethical issues review panel, which, he said in a
recent interview, "is really serious about dealing with
Dr. Murray, 58, is an avid bicyclist. But he has no plans
to go to Athens next week. "I've never been to a single
Olympics," he said, with a smile. "There are jobs within
the Olympic movement that come with lots of perks. The job
I had wasn't one of them."
Q. Recently, a major ethical or medical issue has dominated
the headlines of each Olympics. The Atlanta Games were
dubbed the "EPO Games," after erythropoietin, the human
growth hormone. What do you think the Athens Games will be
A. Perhaps the "Gene Games?" The hot new topic is genetic
manipulation or gene transfer, and people are getting very
excited and worried that athletes might try to genetically
But of course, the technology is not here yet. Lee Sweeney
at University of Pennsylvania is working on a technique
that could be therapeutic for people with muscular
dystrophy, but that might also be used by athletes to
enhance muscle size. Thus far, his work has only been with
mice. Indeed, the whole technology of gene therapy is very
much in its infancy. So while there will be a lot of talk
about it, I don't expect there will be any genetically
enhanced athletes in Athens, although there might be some
who think they have been.
Q. How can a person "think" they've been genetically
A. Because there are scads of scoundrels promoting all
kinds of things to athletes. Some athletes are gullible.
They hang out with these people, listen to them.
In the sports world, there's something called "five-ring
fever," which is a desire to be associated with the Olympic
movement. If you're not an athlete yourself, you get closer
by currying favor. There are athletes who will pay for all
kinds of services they think will enhance their strength
and endurance. In many cases, they're getting nothing. In
others, they are ingesting some very dangerous substances.
Q. Is the problem here the technologies or, rather, how
some people use them?
A. In almost every case, the technology that is being used
for enhancement wasn't developed for that, but for some
therapeutic use. EPO, which you mentioned earlier - it's
for people who have chronic anemia. It helps them make red
cells. Athletes pretty quickly figured out, "If this
substance can get my blood up to normal, why can't I get it
a little above normal and then maybe I can run or cycle a
Q. Would you say that there's a subculture of
self-experimentation among athletes?
A. It's been around for decades, though it's gotten more
elaborate, more formalized and in some cases,
state-sponsored. There was an enormous sports doping
industry in East Germany. It involved over a hundred
scientists and doctors and thousands of athletes. It was a
horrendous activity that damaged a lot of people.
Q. Aside from the damage that some of the enhancements do
to individual athletes, what is the harm in using them?
A. The first thing: It changes the whole idea of a level
What most athletes hate is losing to a cheater. If you
could give athletes a way to compete without performance
enhancements and have a fair shot at winning, most would
The other thing is that enhancements bring into question
the very meaning of athletic endeavors. In the past, sports
have been a combination of natural talents and
old-fashioned virtues like tenacity, endurance, willingness
to suffer pain - and in the case of team sports, playing
unselfishly. If all of that is reduced to a drug or an
injectable, the meaning of sport may be altered
irrevocably. If sport continues to be overwhelmed by the
performance at all costs principle, it could become
something like a high-level circus exhibition, like
professional wrestling or an activity of that sort.
Q. Will we be seeing Olympics in the future where the
sports physicians and scientists are the real contenders?
A. "Best body sculptor?" I'm afraid you're frighteningly
There are branches of the sport of power lifting that give
us a glimpse into that sort of future. Because within power
lifting there is widespread use of performance-enhancing
drugs and steroids, the sport has split into a myriad of
governing bodies, including a "drug free" power lifting
association and another "anything goes" association. The
latter is very clear: "We don't monitor, we don't test for
drugs. Whatever allows you to lift the greatest weight is
what we permit."
So what will happen to the meaning of competition if all
sports go that way in the future? Will victory go to the
person with the best drugs and gene therapists?
Q. What does the current investigation into the Bay Area
Laboratory Co-Operative teach us?
A. That there are cadres of reasonably skilled scientists
willing to work surreptitiously to dope athletes, including
the creation of entirely new drugs, such as THG
tetrahydrogestrinone, a synthetic steroid, which was
thought to be undetectable.
Q. The track star Marion Jones, whose name has been linked
to the Bay Area laboratory inquiry, feels she's been given
a raw deal because she hasn't failed any physical testing.
Does she have a point?
A. Testing isn't the only way to check against doping. For
a fairly long time it's been possible to find an athlete
guilty of doping from evidence other than a laboratory
test, if the evidence is sufficiently clear and
For example, it's possible to find evidence of the
"old-fashioned" blood doping where you got a blood
transfusion, but you get it far enough ahead of the
competition so that you've urinated away the excess fluid
volume, but you still have the extra red cells. In such
cases, if you found items like IV bags, or testimony by
people who've administered the blood, that could be
evidence. It was the only way to be fair to other athletes
against whom this person was competing.
Q. For more than a decade, you served on a United States
Olympic Committee panel charged with monitoring sports
doping. Did you find it a waste of time?
A. No, because I met some wonderful people among the
athletes who also served. But what happened was that we
would get partial information, provide the advice we were
asked to give and then we'd never find out whether the
advice was followed.
I felt frustrated. The U.S.O.C. had to have some form of
drug control program; that's what I felt we were doing
there. But there was the feeling that the leadership of the
U.S.O.C. as well as the various sports governing bodies,
with rare exceptions, was not really committed to this.
Now with the U.S.A.D.A. - the United States Anti-Doping
Agency - things have changed. U.S.A.D.A. seems to be very
serious about trying to give us a different path.
Q. Dr. Gary Wadler, a well-known sports physician, claims
that sports doping is a public health issue. Do you agree
A. Absolutely. Anabolic steroids are the example. They are
used by a frightening number of high school and college-age
students. They take them because they think it will make
them stronger, and if they are male because they think it
will make them look more masculine.
These young people hear of their sports heroes using them,
and if their role models are using steroids to pursue
performance at any price, they think, "Why not?"
Another thing I worry about - for the young and the old -
is this feeling out there that our bodies are mere objects
to be manipulated and optimized by whatever means
available. If 14-year-olds are taking steroids, this is bad
news for all of us.
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