I pride myself on being an avid sports fan, constantly checking scores and discussing current issues in sport.   A topic of discussion that has (unfortunately) become increasingly prevalent is the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. The increase of performance-enhancing drug use has forced professional sporting leagues to tighten up their drug policies. Clear regulations are in place to identify and discipline dopers accordingly. Whether or not an athlete has the intention to cheat, an athlete faces severe consequences if they are caught with performance-enhancing drugs in their body. Should this be the case?

The easy answer would be: Yes. According to interviews with sports fans and my personal discussions about the issue with my peers, the general consensus is that the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes compromises the ideal of fairness in sport. On the flip side, however, there have been cases in which an athlete is wrongly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage. Such a case is that of Carter Ashton of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Carter Ashton, forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was suspended for 20 games after his actions were found in violation the National Hockey League’s drug policy.  Additionally, he was required to forfeit $169,185 in salary. Ashton used an asthma inhaler that he borrowed from one of the athletes he trained with. Ashton was suffering an asthmatic spasm when he used the inhaler. The inhaler had Clenbuterol in it, which is a prohibited substance.

Carter Ashton (Halip, 2014)

Carter Ashton (Halip, 2014)

However, Ashton stated in his defense, “At no time was I seeking to gain an athletic advantage or to knowingly violate the terms of the program.” Ashton’s agent added, “The kid wasn’t trying to cheat. But under the league’s rules you get 20 games for human growth hormones. That’s the unfairness of it.” Therefore, the severity of Ashton’s punishment may be challenged due to his lack of knowledge of the contents of the inhaler.

Bernard Suits, author of The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, states that an athlete must possess the “lusory attitude” before entering into a game. The lusory attitude is defined by an athlete’s acceptance of the rules of a game in order to facilitate the resulting experience of play. Moreover, the lusory attitude is necessary because there may exist other, more efficient means to reach the end goal of a game. With the lusory attitude, an athlete reaches the end goal of a game by following a certain set of rules that are outlined before the game starts. This in turn allows the athlete to avoid any undesirable consequences that result from straying from the rules.

Tying this back to Carter Ashton’s case, it can be argued that Ashton, despite inhaling Clenbuterol, still possessed the lusory attitude. That is, he was aware of and accepted all the rules that the National Hockey League (NHL) set out for competition. There did exist more efficient means of reaching the end goal of the competition; one of these means was the use of performance-enhancing drugs. However, since the rules of the NHL ban performance-enhancing drugs, Ashton could not use performance-enhancing drugs as a means to reach the end goal of the competition. To his knowledge, Ashton followed all of the rules. His intentions were pure, but the severity of his punishment was not sympathetic towards his unknowing inhalation of the performance-enhancing drug.

This poses the following question: Should current performance-enhancing drug policies take an athlete’s intention into consideration?

In order for current performance-enhancing drug policies take an athlete’s intention into consideration, there must be a foolproof system to distinguish between one who does and one who does not possess the lusory attitude. That is, the system should be able to separate the cheaters from the non-cheaters. One initiative, started by former World Champion sailor Teague Czilowki, is called “Clean Protocol”. Clean Protocol is a system that aims to support clean athletes and to promote social change toward clean sport. It enables clean athletes to obtain an independent certification signifying their compliance with the rules. This initiative requires athletes to undergo psychological tests designed to reveal signs that they might be prone to doping. Then they take an advanced lie detector test to determine whether or not they are telling the truth. If the athlete passes, they are certified as “clean.” This in turn can reinforce the lusory attitude in an athlete by bringing out their commitment to following all rules in competition.

Clean Protocol

Clean Protocol 

However, Clean Protocol still has screws to tighten. Thus far, the device is 85 percent accurate. That means that 8.5 percent of those who pass the test should not have, and that 6.5 percent were honest people classified as lying. Additionally, there is a difference between the way that dopers are caught under current league regulations and the way that they are identified by the Clean Protocol. To make sure that both systems complement each other in catching doping athletes will be difficult.

Nevertheless, the introduction of Clean Protocol begs the question: Can a dual type policy on performance-enhancing drugs bring a higher level of fairness to sport? With Clean Protocol already having some success, it can definitely be argued in both ways. Czilowki explains it perfectly: “What have we got to lose?” Yes, it will take time for the two models to coexist and effectively pry out the cheaters from the non-cheaters. However, with the existence of an initiative like Clean Protocol in professional sports, athletes with the lusory attitude, like Carter Ashton, could avoid punishment for mistakes they unknowingly make.

References:

Clean Protocol [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://cleanprotocol.org/the-clean-protocol/

Cornwall, W. (2014, October 10). To Eliminate Dopers: Is a Lie Detector Test the Answer? The Fit List. Retrieved from http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/bodywork/the-fit-list/To-Catch-a-Doper-Is-a-Lie-Detector-Test-the-Answer.html

Halip, Leon (2014) Carter Ashton [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/torontos-carter-ashton-suspended-20-games-for-peds/

Hughes, T. (2014, November 6). Carter Ashton suspended 20 games under NHL’s performance enhancing drug policy. SBNATION. Retrieved from http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2014/11/6/7170587/carter-ashton-suspension-leafs-drugs-clenbuterol

Larkin, M. (2014, November 6). UPDATE: Does Carter Ashton deserve 20-game suspension for PEDs? The Hockey News. Retrieved from http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/torontos-carter-ashton-suspended-20-games-for-peds/

Suits, B. (1978). The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Watson, B. (2013, June 5). Baseball fans react to latest performance enhancing drug scandal. CBS46. Retrieved from http://www.cbs46.com/story/22511979/baseball-fans-react-to-latest-performance-enhancing-drug-scandal

Wikip2011 (2012) Metered-dose Inhaler [Online Image]. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMetered-dose_Inhaler.JPG

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