Published on 27 March 2018
Why are athletes accused of taking performance enhancing drugs demonised when sportsmen with records of violence are, putting it mildly, more readily tolerated?
That is one question posed by a sports expert from the University of Sunderland as the use of performance enhancing drugs once again comes under the spotlight.
A recent Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee report stated that cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky got permission to take banned drugs for medical need but used them to enhance performance.
Wiggins, who has asthma, and Team Sky have rejected the report's findings.
But was the report correct for claiming Wiggins crossed an “ethical line” when no rules had been broken?
Paul Davis, a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Sport at the university, questions whether the report findings warrant the “hysteria” they have been met with.
He said: “Even if Wiggins did what has been alleged, it is not clear that it merits the hysteria we have seen - 'Should I tear down my Bradley Wiggins posters?' - screeched one online piece.
“Use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) tends to be cast as sport's serpentine crime, but it is not clear that this should be so.
“It is likely that covertly unscrupulous or dishonourable actions and attitudes are not uncommon in sport, so it is not clear why PED-users should be demonised as they are.
“Moreover, there might be visible transgressions which are at least as bad as PED-use, and whose culprits are, at the least, not demonised.
“The obvious example is on-field violence.
“Graeme Souness and Roy Keane, to name but two, had formidable records of on-field violence, yet are respected pundits and former managers.
“Robbie Savage once held the record for Premiership yellow cards, yet has a lucrative career in media punditry.
“Rugby Union’s Dylan Hartley has accumulated 60 weeks of suspensions since 2007 for offences including biting, punching and elbowing, yet was appointed England captain in 2016.
“There would be scarce chance of someone caught - even once - taking a PED enjoying such fortune.”
Dr Davis has called for the need to interrogate what he calls the ‘hierarchy of vice’ that exists in sport, through which drug users are “the devil” while violent transgressions are “tolerated and even dramatised and lionised.”
Dr Davis also notes that the man who appointed Dylan Hartley England captain, Eddie Jones, has been exposed as making casually racist public comment about Wales and the Irish, yet retains his post with no RFU action. (‘Should I tear down any England posters with Eddie Jones in them?’)
He added: “One other possible point of impact worth observing is that it might be argued that if Wiggins' use of triamcinolone slid into the performance-enhancing, as it has been alleged, then it would undermine the integrity of the sport. And nothing is more important than sporting integrity.
“While we might allow the latter, but the former is arguably questionable.
“It is important to remember that under the rules any one of Wiggin’s opponents is allowed to use triamcinolone on a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) basis.
Wiggins and Team Sky received therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) - permission to take otherwise banned drugs for medical use - to treat the 2012 Tour de France winner's asthma with anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone.
The drug is legal to use out of competition.
Wiggins, 37, was granted TUEs to take the corticosteroid shortly before the 2011 Tour de France, his 2012 Tour win and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
He took it up to nine times over a four-year period, said the DCMS report.
This was done "not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race" as the drug has "powerful" performance-enhancing properties, it added.
So, it looks as if the debate over ethical lines in sport is set to rumble on.
Seven sporting moments that shocked the world
1) Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" Goal:
Maradona's incredible ‘goal’ in Argentina's 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England in the 1986 World Cup may be one of the most famous and controversial sporting moments of all time
2) Tyson V Holyfield 2:
Meeting again in 1997, the bout had a bad-tempered start after Holyfield caught Tyson with a headbutt. Iron Mike's reaction was to bite a chunk out of his opponent's ear, earning a round 3 loss, a $3 million fine and a disqualification from boxing.
3) Eric Cantona’s Kung Fu kick:
Playing away at Crystal Palace, a poor first half had Manchester United fans frustrated. The notoriously short-tempered Cantona was frustrated too, earning a red card almost before the second half was underway. That wasn't all. After being abused by a fan on his way off, the Frenchman leapt the barrier and kicked him in the chest.
4) Zola Budd and Mary Decker:
It was the trip that would fill column inches for years to come. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the rivalry between South African Zola Budd - representing Great Britain at the Olympics - and hometown hero Mary Decker exploded when the two tangled halfway around the 3000m final.
Decker fell and didn't finish the race.
5) Ben Johnson’s Olympic gold.
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, beating his own world record in the process.
However, subsequent urine samples revealed stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. Almost as quickly as he had won, Johnson's medal was taken away.
6) Tonya and Nancy
In 1994 Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were both on Team USA's figure skating team. Kerrigan was set for gold at the 1994 Winter Olympics. It is then alleged she and her husband hired a man to attack and injure Kerrigan.
7) Lance Armstrong exposed
After beating testicular cancer, Lance Armstrong went on to win six straight Tour De France titles. He was regularly accused of doping, but the testing of the time was never able to find him guilty of the wide spread suspicion. In 2013, Armstrong finally admitted to his use of PEDs in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey on TV.