As with so many things in life, it’s sad that it takes a disaster for necessary conversations to begin taking place. Here we are a few weeks away from the sports’ main event and the focus of discussion is about performance enhancing products. Yet in this crazy sport that is somehow a GOOD thing!
It’s good because we’re finally admitting that the problem REALLY exists. It’s good because we’re talking about possible solutions. I don’t know that I personally agree with everything that’s being put on the table, but at least we are having discussions and thoughts are being put out there!
For example, suddenly athletes aren’t simply being labeled “cheats” because they tested positive. This week they’re being seen as people that are being held accountable for every molecule that enters their bodies. Yet at the same time they’re being asked to perform at the highest possible level. A tightrope act, that would be extremely difficult for the average human being to walk, let alone someone totally dependent on his/her body for their livelihood.
So, now that we apparently understand a bit better what the athletes are faced with, how do we make things better – how do we fix it? Or are we convinced that it can’t be fixed? Personally I say that we don’t give up, which to me means to throw up our hands and say “fine drugs are allowed y’all have at it”. Because IF there were valid reasons for outlawing performance enhancers in the first place, those reasons have not gone away over night. That would be the equivalent of a parent deciding to stop attempting to punish a child for doing wrong because he /she feels they just can’t stop him from misbehaving!
No, I’m not sure this “Dark Weekend” calls for throwing in the towel against drugs – not yet. I do feel however, that it does call for better due diligence on the part of athletes and their “camps”. EVERYTHING should be subject to scrutiny. Routines should be established, and everything that falls within the routine should be checked and double checked, including samples of a product/food item being sent to a lab for verification of being “testing approved safe” – and federations should make labs available for such product checking!
I would even go as far as to say that the IAAF and/or federations should get together to develop a list of “testing approved safe” restaurants and eateries within a certain circumference of major meet locations. This should include local “7-Eleven” type stores that sell off beat ingestible items like vitamins, waters, energy drinks/bars etc. Yes the athletes are liable for what goes into their bodies, but the IAAF and its member federations could do a better job of assisting the athletes in this regard. To that end helping to ensure that products available to athletes get checked properly. Simply putting out a list of what NOT to take is unsatisfactory to me – just as a parent should provide assistance in making good decisions and not just say make sure you “don’t”.
Of course, I’m also of the opinion that in some foreign situations, athletes should travel with a stash of their favorite things with them and a “first aid kit” of approved emergency items like pain killers, massage creams, waters, energy drinks, bars, etc. I would prefer carrying around a chest of safe items as opposed to taking the one thing that could end my career. I remember Tori Edwards failing a test because of a foreign energy drink that had a label in a foreign language but looked “innocent” – In this sport no item is “innocent” and anything unknown should be treated as if could be deadly, because it has the potential to KILL your career!
And THAT is the lesson that I think should be learned here. The idea shouldn’t be that the rules are too tough and therefore should be dropped and let a free for all ensue. Instead I think the sport should do a little more to help the athletes adhere to the rules. That’s not to absolve the athletes from their liability however. Athletes and camps MUST be critical to a fault of everything entering their bodies. Even to the point of being near paranoid and traveling with “emergency supplies”!
This past weekend we discovered that mistakes have been made. Within our discussions we need to figure out how to PREVENT these kinds of mistakes being made in the future without throwing the baby out with the bath water.