Mo Farah: end the assumed guilt and legalise all drugs in sport
Mo Farah, hero of the London 2012 Olympics, has expressed shock at allegations his coach Alberto Salazar violated anti-doping regulations. “I haven’t done anything, but my name is getting dragged through the mud,” says Farah.
There is no suggestion Farah has done anything outside the rules. And Salazar maintains his innocence. But, hey, who expects a cheat to confess – they only do that in the face of proven guilt and when trying to get back in the game?
Against this backdrop of popular suspicion that ‘they’ are all on something – and if they are, then so what if the winner cheats? – the Daily Mail drops a shoe:
Mo Farah missed two drug tests before London Olympics, putting 2012 double gold at risk Farah’s first missed test appears to have occurred in early 2010, six months before he broke David Moorcroft’s British 5,000m record. The second test seems to have occurred once Farah had started working with Salazar, taking place at Farah’s home in Teddington. Farah contested it by appealing to the UK Anti-Doping Agency on the basis that he claimed he did not hear his doorbell
The Mail says that an athlete who misses three tests in any 12-month period (down from 18 months since 2013) can face up to a four-year ban. But Farah did not miss three tests. He missed two.
Farah has not cheated. But he is trapped in the prevailing culture where everyone is guilty til proven innocent:
Kjetil Haugen7 investigated the suggestion that athletes face a kind of prisoner’s dilemma regarding drugs. His game theoretic model shows that, unless the likelihood of athletes being caught doping was raised to unrealistically high levels, or the payoffs for winning were reduced to unrealistically low levels, athletes could all be predicted to cheat. The current situation for athletes ensures that this is likely, even though they are worse off as a whole if everyone takes drugs, than if nobody takes drugs.
And, in any case, who says what is and what is not cheating?
Professor Julian Savulescu points to the use of caffeine and other substances that are shown to improve cycling performance yet are still allowed and even welcomed in competition.
“Today athletes take caffeine, which is unnatural to enhance performance — nobody thinks that’s somehow corrupting of the spirit of sport. Yet it was banned [ed. up until 2004] and it enhances performance — it increases the time to exhaustion by about 10%. Beetroot extract can also increase the time to exhaustion by up to 20% in some trials. These examples show that it’s not performance enhancement per se that’s the problem.”
“By allowing some physiological performance enhancement you enable honest athletes who don’t want to harm themselves, to increase their performance to some degree. So the people that are cheating are going to be getting less of an advantage than they are now.
“So you’re reducing the unfairness of the situation by creating what you might call a ‘white market’ for physiological enhancement which competes with a ‘black market’ for non-physiological enhancement.”
I’d allow athletes take anything so long as it doesn’t cause them to fall down dead. Carefully managed science should be permitted. The case of Mo Farah highlights the system’s failings. It’s time to change the system.