In the big money business of lies

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Sports doesn’t care about it and Wada doesn’t want to fix but as TUEs continue on as the latest scourge and the latest deceipt, we are expected to keep buying the bullshit, writes Ewan MacKenna

Across the leaks, there have now been 127 athletes caught up in having their Thereputic Use Exemptions made public. Almost none of that group have handled it like Callum Skinner though.

An Olympic cycling medalist for Britain, he got word his were amongst the files hacked but was proactive and positive, quickly getting to work. He called doctors and hospitals visited since childhood, put together a dossier, and released it himself. It showed an asthma issue when five; it showed he suffered pneumonia when 12; it showed his first TUE was in 2014 before a meet when he fell apart on track as he admitted he should have been in bed; it showed his second and last TUE was in 2015 when illness meant missing the Euros.

But most of all it showed up the exploitation of the system by many others who see it as a way to legally dope and morally cheat. This is why many of the names contained on the Fancy Bears site couldn’t have reacted like him because they’d never acted like him to begin with, and this gets to the very core of TUE abuse. While Skinner talks openly about trying to train and live in a way that means he doesn’t need them, elsewhere to be so up front would mean the en vogue method of getting ahead through chemistry would collapse.

Instead, the way most modern sport works was exemplified by Maria Sharapova during the week. Having taken the banned meldonium, the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her suspension, saying she didn’t actually cheat despite long-term use of medicine she didn’t need but that she thought was performance enhancing. Racket manufacturer Head quickly announced they were proud to stand by a convicted doper “through these difficult times”. The International Tennis Federation added they will not let players plead ignorance, having let one of their major cash cows do just that. Meanwhile she fumed that her governing body tried to make an example of her.

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What we had were the key financial stakeholders refusing to take ownership of blatant rule breaks because there were profits to be had. To be fair, this is to be expected as ultra-capitalism dresses in drag to pass itself off as sport, trying to dupe those too naive to see it and too blind to stop paying for it. Besides, what business would sacrifice profits to a confession about how it behaves unethically? It’s why, with cycling hit hardest by the Fancy Bears revelations, UCI president Brian Cookson and his organisation are now on day 25 of no response. It’s also why people like Callum Skinner are becoming the exception and have become too honest for what sport has become.

Yet the worst stench from all of this is Wada as they are also refusing to talk and silence is the golden give away. Just as with the others mentioned, the wind is howling and they’ve basically drawn the drapes, hoping that if they wait long enough, upon re-opening, the sun will have returned. In fact their only action thus far has been to try and discredit Fancy Bears for doing what is their own job.

Everyone and their mother has realised that TUEs have been the preferred method of doping for many athletes for some time, the latest inventive way after more obvious avenues were found out. However Wada’s response makes Floyd Landis’ view on this all the more incisive. Back in the summer when conversing with the Business Post, he suggested Wada were merely a public relations wing to allow sports to look good while acting bad and cashing in. It’s getting harder to dispute that claim.

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When it comes to TUEs, all that’s needed to break a system that seems to want to be broken is the following: An ambitious athlete who will do whatever it takes to win (most of them), a doctor unethical enough to support that intention and who is compromised by those who pay his salary (most of them) and a governing body incapable or unwilling to put in place and operate a safety net (most of them). No wonder cheating in this area is rampant. Besides, how can any panel actually then evaluate this space? It’s left an honour system in a sphere filled with people who have none, after all sport is now populated at the high end in terms of administrators and coaches by those who were willing to break the rules in the 1980s and 1990s. Why would they ever change when they don’t have to?

But Wada are supposed to be the fuse in case the current is too great. They even had an obvious solution in the realm of TUEs staring them down but their comeback suggests they aren’t in the business of solutions. While they won’t enact it though, we’ll explain it.

Plain and simple, TUEs should be outlawed in competition. If you’ve severe asthma or an allergy, work away, but just don’t dare come out to play. This is step one, but step two calls for a stop to TUEs for all acute conditions, such as the ones for the chest infection Chris Froome or the allergic reactions Bradley Wiggins claimed to have. It leaves just non-competing chronic exemptions.

It’s not difficult stuff. From a medical standpoint, if you are sick enough to need an exemption, no doctor should have you out there competing anyway. It’s malpractice although not an issue any medical body has so far been willing to touch. But secondly, from a sporting point of view, why should an acute TUE allow you put in what nature has taken out? A major part of being an elite athlete and of top-level competition is being able to handle the high training volume and intensity without breaking down injured or ill.

Yet the majority of TUEs are to overcome a failure of the body to do just that. Look at this logically. If Athlete A has lower testosterone than Athlete B, why shouldn’t they load up to level the playing field? If Athlete C has lower red blood cell levels than Athlete D why not prescribe EPO? As crazy as that sounds, it follows the thinking currently in place.

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Of course getting rid of acute TUEs would free up resources to audit chronic TUEs as there is no way an application should be supported by documents coming from a team doctor. Sports need independent medical professionals that are answerable and open to Wada. It wouldn’t stop what is going on completely, but it will limit it. Sadly though this is all hypothetical and the fact the obvious hasn’t happened means it never will. Besides, there’s already so much more Wada could and should have done.

For instance the meldonium Sharapova took only became outlawed due to their testing for drugs that weren’t banned as they then finally realised due to its prevalence that there was something awry. But what about the other legal drugs they test for that are clearly being abused, like the corticosteroids Sky and others gulp down? They won’t release specific athlete information due to privacy but that doesn’t mean they can’t release breakdowns by sport, by country and by team. Then we’d know the real truth, so what are they waiting for? Or better, what are they scared of and what are they protecting?

Then again, Wada has shown it isn’t in the business of transparency. All the while athletes like Callum Skinner have learned their sports aren’t in the business of much other than business itself.

Sunday Business Post
9 October, 2016

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