Looks like a prior post titled “Ritalin: a PED” caught the attention of a few, resulting in threats and intimidation. That I will leave all that to another post because the material Swimming Canada and its Sport Safe Officer provided deserves a blog all to itself.
To bridge the gap to that blog… why the threats and intimidation? Well when the sport association responsible for providing a safe sport and ensuring a fair environment in competition is awoken to the fact that its asleep at the wheel and that parents and children have found legal loopholes to obtain performance benefits, well… lets just say that its like being pants’d in the middle of the hallway in high school: its embarrassing and humiliating to have everyone stare at you while your pants hover around your ankles (especially when it is of utmost importance that your organization present itself as if its got everything under control).
As for the rest of you, if the prior post didn’t peeve you off as to what is happening in sports – namely the use of medically prescribed drugs as legal options for parents/children to obtain performance enhancing benefits – then perhaps this will: if you think Ritalin is the only PED, or if you think that its only one or two medications that can stimulate performance or enable performance, and that its only a couple of children that are legally doping (knowingly or unknowingly) … think again.
Considering that we are a society which is the most medicated, most drugged, most accustomed to popping this pill or that pill to solve each and every daily problem, our children have become equally accustomed to being given pills or popping pills on their own; so it should be no wonder that we have become blind to the effects that the medications we are taking each and every day are having on us. Of course, the negative side effects like anal leakage, lightheadedness, nausea, etc… no one wants; but what if your medication has a “positive” side effect that allows you to swim faster and/or longer or both? What happens when children and parents realize that the medication prescribed by their doctor for one thing, has side effects that no one mentioned? What happens when those side effects result in material differences when training and racing in sport?
What would you do?
Would you share that with other parents?
Would you share that with the swim team coach?
Would you inform your sport association?
What if you were the parent of a child who wasn’t on medications that were performance enhancing, have no interest on putting your child on any medications (because you retain a connection to your conscience) but knowing others are… what would you do?
For those who think that ignorance is an acceptable excuse, think again. There are many high profile athletes who claimed to ‘not know’ that the medication they were taking was on WADA’s list (e.g. tennis player Maria Sharapova). In the case of this athlete, she was taking Meldonium for medical reasons before WADA added it to the list, and continued to take it and claimed that ‘her team’ failed to check the list of prohibited substances and continued to take it even after Meldonium was added. No, Sharapova was not accused of being an “intentional [illegal] doper” but she was still banned from the sport for 15months.
Enough of a preface, lets get down to business… the dirty business of parents seeking performance gains for their child in order that they qualify for Easterns, make cuts for Nationals or Olympic Trials, or for the simple need to have their child continue to out perform others on the team (in a typical parental pissing contest of correlating their awesomeness as parents with the performance of their child in sport, school, whatever…).
Asthma inhalers also known as asthma puffers deliver medication that loosens the muscles surrounding the airways in the lungs which when tight cause the symptoms which are called an asthma attack. Alright, so what happens if a child who is not suffering from an asthma attack but because they are at risk of suffering one as a result of training or competing are encouraged to prophylactically take a puff or two… by their parents, by their coach. When is it appropriate use of a medication, and when is it legal doping? After all, an athlete who has wider more relaxed airways is obviously going to breathe better, but what if that breathing better is so much better that its better than the next athlete who has not taken any medication (mainly because they haven’t been prescribed any)?
How many times do you see swimmers finish their event, and are breathing deeply for seconds if not minutes afterwards? Clearly, breathing ability is key to performance, therefore couldn’t it be argued that asthma inhalers have a potentially greater PED effect than Ritalin because the taking of the medication can be timed within close proximity to a competition?
Is the scale of our overly medicated/drugged society starting to connect with the potential extent of legal doping that is happening in amateur sport?
Which brings me back to Maria Sharapova for a moment. Why was Meldonium – a medication Sharapova claimed she was taking for a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes – put on the banned substance list? Because, and I quote WADA:
“Meldonium was added [to the Prohibited List] because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”
The “World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) placed Meldonium (aka mildronate) on its banned substance list on September 16, 2015, effective January 1 , 2016, after finding that the drug could potentially increase exercise capacity and tolerance” (click here for the quote reference). Think on that… for “potential” increase in exercise capacity and tolerance, no… not tested and proven increases in performance but “potential” increases. This isn’t even a drug heavily used in the west, yet still WADA banned the substance.
So what should that say about all the medications children are on that “could potentially increase exercise capacity and tolerance”.
So would you say asthma inhalers/puffers have a chance of “potentially” increasing exercises capacity and tolerance? Sure its legal to use an asthma inhaler, but why shouldn’t it be considered legal doping if Meldonium is now considered illegal doping? The real question should be… how many medications are children on that are “potentially” performance enhancing?
The answer is probably… YIKES! That many! Houston… we have a problem (or in this case, WADA… we have a problem). Looks like sport associations and Safe Sport have their work cut out for them if their objective of making sport “safe” and keeping competition fair is actually ever going to be a reality.
One final note… I wonder… how did WADA discover that athletes were using Meldonium for performance enhancing benefits? I doubt any athlete went to WADA and said, hey look, I’m using Meldonium to win in competition… that ok? As it is in most instances, someone spilled the beans… in the recent case re: Ritalin, parents who refused to see medication as a “solution” sought additional coaching in order to help their children out in an healthy no short cut ‘training is the solution’ mindset. That by seeking training outside of their own swim teams, begged the question… why? Well… no one intentionally ‘ratted’, it was parents sharing their concerns, seeking help, and in so doing… the beans were spilled.
In 1999, David Walsh – sports reporter for the UK Guardian – argued that there was enough doubt regarding Lance Armstrong’s rapid ascent from mid-peloton cyclist to Tour de France winner that an investigation should have been started; especially since Armstrong’s signature dotted page after page of the hotel in Dr Ferrari’s home town. But no one wanted to do anything, why? Because Armstrong was the feel good story of the century. A cancer patient who recovers and wins the Tour de France, who wants to piss on that parade? Walsh did and for a decade he sat as a loner amongst all the other sports journalists who couldn’t get enough of Armstrong and his winning ways. Flash forward and today Walsh’s documentary reveals… what everyone knew, but what everyone turned a blind eye to.
Is that where we are today? The reality of an overly medicated/drugged society unwilling to accept the reality that whether by intention or ignorance, parents are legally doping their children and their children are knowingly or unknowingly obtaining performance enhancing benefits from medically prescribed drugs. Children winning in sport is the feel good story of the century in sport… no, no one wants to piss on that parade but someone has to. Why? Because if sport is ever to be about children growing up again, not about parents, coaches, or the business of sport… then someone has to rip back the bandaid that covers up everything that we know or should know or should admit to knowing.
To parents who have sought additional coaching due to the fact that you do have scruples and you considered the ramifications of medications and the risk of legal doping… you are not alone. There are other parents who believe as you do that sport is for children, and that adult involvement in making sport “big business” is at the root of these problems. I ask you to not yield, stand strong because the strength of character that you possess is the real gift that you want your children to gain, and if they gain that but never qualify or make any cuts in the sport of swimming… it doesnt matter because they will be the better in the long term because life is long and swimming stats get smaller and smaller and less and less relevant in the rear view mirror.
To parents who feel “ratted out”… tough. You made a decision, now you live with the consequences, or your child will have to for you.