Who believes athletes are squeaky-clean innocents whose most serious vice is a nicotine patch? Then why do people pretend to be surprised when we discover that some high-profile champion has been using dope? Rarely a week goes by without some figure from sports returning a positive test. Since 1988 when Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold and chased back to Canada in disgrace, there have been many, many supposedly great athletes reduced to “cheats” after the discovery of banned substances. Diego Maradona, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and so many others have been involved in drugs scandals of some kind.
The lesson is clear: athletes across the whole spectrum of sport have indicated their preference to take drugs. And, like it or not, we – and the media – encourage them. Not obviously, of course. But we demand athletic performances that make almost inhuman demands on the body, and are disappointed when we get less. What if we simply allowed athletes to use whatever substances they choose, then ask them to declare what they’ve been taking? Then we could commission research, investigate the substances, their effectiveness, their side-effects and, where necessary, their dangers. We could feed the information back to athletes and advise accordingly. It would create a more open, honest and, most importantly, safer environment. It’s not a popular idea and, in this video, I discuss it on Channel 5 news.