Olympics

Brock experts weigh in on Olympic doping issues


brocku-rectangle-logo-280The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro will be played under a cloud of cynicism according to a Brock University professor.

Department of Sport Management associate professor Hilary Findlay says the doping scandal that resulted in Russia’s weightlifting and track teams being banned from the Rio Olympics will leave many questioning the legitimacy of any extraordinary accomplishments over the next two weeks.

“Any exceptional performance, any good performance … it will carry great doubt with it. We’ve become very cynical, but in many cases, not all, but many, that has proven to be true,” Findlay says.

The doping scandals currently plaguing international sport are “a mess,” she says, but this type of cheating isn’t new.

“It’s nothing different than what has been going on forever, but it’s public now,” says Findlay. “But we have to distinguish between the athletes themselves using some sort of banned substance and the kind of state-sponsored process that was put into place (in Russia).”

Findlay believes the doping conversation will quiet down as the games get fully underway, but there will be many tough questions to be answered by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee down the road.

“After the Olympics, it will become a very interesting conversation,” she says. “It’s the opportunity for a turning point. Some really obvious actions need to be taken.”

She also says not banning the entire Russian Olympic team was the right thing to do.

“Olympic games are national team events, but performances are individual, records are individual. I think it’s just wrong to punish the clean athletes.”

When it comes to the history of anti-doping policy in the Olympics and sports in general, Brock University’s Ian Ritchie is a leading expert.

The Department of Kinesiology associate professor is currently writing a book about the history of anti-doping policy in the Olympic movement and co-authored the 2006 book “Fastest, Highest, Strongest: A critique of high performance sports” with Queen’s University professor Rob Beamish.

“Doping has an old history. There are examples and evidence going back to the ancient Greek games,” Ritchie says.

Unlike today, however, doping wasn’t considered cheating or immoral. It was often led by scientists who were simply trying to see what the human body was capable of. That started to change in the 1920s and ‘30s.

“That’s when we see the first moral condemnation of athletes using drugs, but there was a real divide between condemning amateur athletes, but not professionals. It was really divided among classes,” Ritchie says.

Doping started to become a major issue with the rise of the Cold War after World War II when Eastern Bloc countries used the Olympics to further the political fight.

“Steroids hit the scene in the 1950s primarily in weightlifting,” says Ritchie.

It wasn’t until after the death of a cyclist in the 1960s was believed to be caused by amphetamines (although it wasn’t) that the IOC started drug testing for the first time.

“Once the rules were set, it became a race to create testing and then scientists and technicians got involved and it took off from there.”

Ritchie says what most people don’t realize is that the anti-doping movement was never the result of a desire to protect the health of the athletes or to level the playing field.

“Doping was banned primarily because of the politics of amateurism,” he says.

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