Doping Gets a Pass at the Olympics

Followers of this weblog over at least the past few months will recall my very doubtful stance towards the issue of possible doping by athletes at this years Beijing Olympic Games. I presented commentary from an ex-Olympic star doubting that doping could be avoided; and I pointed out how technological advances in sporting accessories were probably producing athletic performances many would call “unnatural” anyway. In fact, in my last sentence of that latter post I opined that, because of these accessories, we “have something else to be concerned about in addition to the pharmacological/blood-swapping tricks that we have to hope the Olympic authorities are sufficiently on-guard against.”

Sorry to say, but up comes an article in the respected German commentary weekly Die Zeit, by Friedhard Teuffel (Doping Policy of the IOC [= International Olympic Committee] is not credible), which indicates that those authorities were rather unlikely to have been sufficiently on-guard.

The devil is, of course, in the details, but Teuffel does provide two clear points to his indictment. The first is simple to understand, and devastating: Half of the nations participating in the Beijing Olympics did not bother to inform the IOC where their athletes were staying, i.e. where they could be found to be summoned for the random tests that were supposed to take place. So they were not found. Given all the expressions of extreme confidence in their anti-doping procedures that the IOC had issued as the Games got started, you would have thought they would have come down hard on the many national delegations withholding this vital information. But it seems that they simply let it pass without comment instead.

Secondly, the IOC neglected to test for the use of insulin, which the Wikipedia article just linked to points out is indeed banned (when it is not individually prescribed, presumably only for health reasons) at international athletic competitions. As Teuffel goes on to point out, there are two possibilities here: either the IOC somehow did not know it was supposed to test for insulin, or it simply did not want to.

Either way, that particular failure can still be atoned for via after-the-fact testing of Olympic athletes’ samples. (Theoretically, at least; all of us can also grasp the reluctance the IOC would have to “rocking the boat” when the Games are far in the past by retroactively changing the official results based on new doping tests.) Far more serious is the Games’ first-mentioned testing defect, which could only have meant that far fewer samples were taken in the first place than were required. Teuffel expresses what went on here rather neatly: whereas when it comes to doping the worry usually comes in the form of new doping techniques outstripping the capabilities of the authorities to catch them, somehow – amazingly, dismayingly for those who might still believe in Olympic ideals – what we had at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was the anti-doping authorities voluntarily regressing with their techniques and procedures.

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