A line in the sand

"If it's important to you, you will find a way. If not you'll find an excuse."

An admirable statement. Promoting perseverance in the face of obstacles is the aim of many motivational quotes that stress the importance of hard-work and effort. It also happens to simplify often complex and difficult scenarios into one distilled, punchy phrase. It represents an ethos that we celebrate in our heroes, where dedication and application are the stuff of legends; the foundation of many of the stories that we tell our children and future stars.

Sporting culture and Doping: A line in the Sand

Sporting culture and Doping: A line in the Sand

An MMA fighter, a Welsh rugby player, a famous Russian tennis player, and an Ice-hockey team (to name just a few) were all recently found guilty of exactly that. Finding a way. Win at all costs. Exposed as cheats in their respective sports for taking banned performance enhancing substances (PES) they did everything they could to succeed, including crossing, what has become, a very blurry line. These high-profile examples are emblematic of a disturbing cultural trend growing around sport across the globe, clearly seen in the quantity of doping scandals filling front and back pages. Short term-gains at the expense of long-term health and personal ethics. What is happening to the spirit of sport?

We spoke about the Dark Side of Sport recently in relation to the corruption that has been exposed inside FIFA, but the same context which is leading to the erosion of morality within the administration of sport, is the one in which our athletes find themselves. The results of which can be clearly seen in the doping and match fixing scandals across sporting and national boundaries over the last decade.

A change in our sporting values is consistent with changes in the sporting environment. As sports have become increasingly professional, their players have become commodities, literally traded on a global scale. The commercialization of sport is having far-reaching impacts on the values at the root of sport, and the lessons it teaches its athletes. The line in the sand between right and wrong is not where we would hope anymore.

The problem is something that has been recognised in the anti-doping literature, and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) have sought to address it by requiring signatories of the WADA Code to implement educational and prevention programmes. The buzz-word has become "values-based education". Encouragingly WADA appears to understand the levels at which these initiatives need to be implemented with Rob Koehler outlining the long-term and multi-tiered approached that is required for real change, including addressing athlete's support personnel (coaches, trainers and parents). He also identifies a few of the significant stumbling blocks: a lack of funding, where much of the money needed for education is directed towards testing; and a need for research that demonstrates the impact values-based education can have on doping practices.

The idea is that we need to change the way that our athletes think and speak about sport and the values associated with it. We need to intervene in a way that turns that line between cheating and fair play into a solid barrier in the minds of the people playing sport. An extraordinarily difficult challenge given the incentives and rewards that can lead to this kind of behaviour. Whether or not it's possible to change our sporting culture is uncertain especially since the initiatives proposed by WADA will do little to change the economic factors that drive the status quo.

Further Reading:
UFC Athlete, Romero, Accepts Sanction for Anti-Doping Policy Violation
Welsh Rugby Union Player Banned for Four Years
WADA Talks With Rob Koehler
A New Front in the War on Doping 
Is The Win-at-All-Costs Culture Ruining Youth Sports?