When Lance Armstrong after years of speculation came out and confessed about doping the whole world reacted with shock and disappointment. The downfall of an inspirational figure in world sport was both disheartening and disappointing. He was severely criticized and stripped of all his tour de France victories. In lieu of the recent spate of doping scandals arising across the world, however, raises a question of whether we reacted unfairly towards Lance Armstrong?
Look at the recent cases of doping issue:
- French Hurdler Decaux banned for doping Aug 2013
- Belarus Shot putter Andrei Mikhnevich fails dope test Aug 2013
- American Major league Baseball star Alex Rodriguez was banned for 211 games for doping Aug 2013
- American athlete Tyson Gay and Jamaican athlete Asafa Powell fail dope test July 2013
- Indian shot putter P Udai Laxmi fails dope test – withdrawn from Asian Championship July 2013
- Australian Cricket Board accepts to systemic problem of Doping Jun 2013
While the respective governing bodies have taken appropriate action against the faltering individuals – but I think it raises deep questions that probably are disheartening to find answers for.
Have we as humans hit a plateau with respect to our athletic ability?
On 6th May 1954 Roger Banister for the first time ran a mile under 4 minutes. In many ways he liberated our minds in what was possible and set the tone for some awe inspiring performances. We have seen plenty of world records being bettered over the years. It made us believe it is mind over matter and whatever the mind can conceive the body can achieve. Thus far it has proven to be true and many athletes stand testimony to it. Logically thinking though – there has to be a limit to how far we could push our body. At one point we probably would reach the top of the plateau despite all the power of our innovative imagination. Have we reached that point? Have we hit that plateau? Has our physiology finally known its limit?
As far as track and field events are concerned will the World Records that stand as of today ever be bettered again? Bettered to what extent? What’s the price of such an endeavor and can it be done with natural athletic ability? Or can our psychology continue to influence physiology and push the boundary further away? The recent doping incidents do indicate in a sense that what the mind is conceiving the body is desperately trying to achieve but failing without the banned supplements to reach there.
If we have hit a plateau – when did we hit it?
If we have really hit the plateau – when did we hit it? Ben Johnson in 1988 was stripped of his Olympic Gold when he was found guilty of doping. Lance Armstrong confessed of doping as early as 1992-93. Are all these indications that the level of performances we desire to see are possible only if one doped? Did we hit the plateau long ago and some unlucky people got caught of using performance enhancing drugs while others who were not enjoyed public adulation?
In 2002 Jeffrey Archer published series of books based on a diary that he wrote while serving his prison sentence. In one of these books he talks about how prisoners used to get high on various drugs but also knew how to flush it out of the system before the prison Dr examined them. When prisoners could figure this out how difficult would it be for athletes, who have access to world class medical facility and consultation, to figure out? It’s scary to think on these lines and demoralizing as well, however it stares at our face waiting to gain our attention.
Are we pushing our athletes to inhuman levels?
The other point also is that sports from being past time activities and modes of keeping the human body tuned have become a profession by themselves. Sports are now the exclusive domain of professional athletes and some are handsomely paid for it as well. It is as if, many of us have outsourced our share of athletic performance and burdened the shoulders of the professional athletes. It is a vicarious experience of whatever natural athletic ability all of us possess and also provides us with entertainment. In this process have we overburdened the professional athletes?
Any professional athlete, apart from his, also shoulders the expectation and aspiration of others. The expectation is of peak performance and at a very rapid interval for an athlete to linger in people’s mind and earn a living. In this process have we pushed them so far that they have no option but to do whatever is required to stay away from injuries and perform at extreme pressure situation? Some who do resort to doping are more of a victim while they might appear to be benefiting from it.
What is Natural Ability in sport?
On the other hand one might also question whether sport has ever been a level playing field that it claims to be. There are sportsmen with a specific genetic disposition for a particular game; developed countries with better sports infrastructure also manage to provide their athletes with better dietary supplements. Ofcourse there is always an anti-thesis to this and Jesse Owens in 1932 Berlin Olympics not only proved Hitler wrong but was the most successful athlete of the games! One might argue that the level to which professional sports have risen, it is absolutely mandatory to have essential and acceptable dietary supplements apart from having a flair for the sport. The players who can’t afford them are at an obvious disadvantage; however this is not treated as an unfair competitive advantage as doping is. Also people have argued that people who think that certain drugs that act as performance enhancers don’t in anyway enhance the players skills – so whether we should make doping legal?
Many questions but no answers in sight, there are points and counter-points but no consensus. Till we re-think how we view professional sports players resorting to doping would continue to be castigated. Will psychology continue to triumph over any obvious physiological limits as it has done so far?