Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Another contrarian look at doping from Charles Pierce. I agree with much said there (see earlier posts). For more, check Off Wing's posts.

Yesterday, I was poking around WADA's website to see how they decide what's banned and what isn't. A substance is banned if it meets two of these three criteria: (1) performance-enhancing, (2) dangerous to health, (3) violates the spirit of the sport.

Right off the bat, the third criterion should give us pause. I'm not sure what the phrase "spirit of the sport" even means. Deciding what violates the spirit of a sport is something about which reasonable people might disagree. And that decision has nothing to do with science.

Nor is it clear that WADA should have total, global control over those determinations. Major League Baseball, for example, should be able to decide for itself which substances violate the spirit of baseball.

(WADA has been pushing for one worldwide doping code to govern all sports. Of course, it wants control over that code. It has been highly critical of MLB and other sports for not accepting WADA rule.)

Even when the squishy third criterion isn't involved, there are still problems. Caffeine is performance enhancing, and it can be dangerous to your health. It was banned in 2003, but it won't be in 2004. The rules obviously don't always give clear answers.

Now of course, we must make some determinations about what's banned and what isn't. Given that there's some large amount of grey area, some of the determinations are necessarily arbitrary. The best we can do is make some arbitrary determinations, and then enforce those rules fairly.

But given the inherent arbitrariness, we shouldn't get all freaked out when players use substances that aren't explicitly banned. We should, in other words, tread lightly when applying the "analogue substances" rule to punish something retroactively.

And we shouldn't turn over control of all sports to the hysterics at WADA.