Are international sports events to be competitions to determine the world's best athletes, or a contest among scientists and drug companies to see who can produce the best performance-enhancing drugs?
This is a question many are seriously asking in the wake of growing numbers of incidents involving drugs in sports -- the most spectacular recent example being the drug scandal that rocked the integrity of the Tour de France. Other shockers: U.S. shotputter Randy Barnes and sprinter Dennis Mitchell suspended last month by the International Amateur Athletics Federation for testing positive on drugs, and four Chinese swimmers banned from competition after drugs were detected in their systems.
But if you think the reaction by sports authorities to these and other drug-usage reports are to step up the war on drugs (more testing and tougher sanctions), you'd be wrong. In the words of Sports Illustrated, they're "throwing in the towel."
This distressing attitude was particularly manifest in recent remarks International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch made to a Spanish newspaper. The only performance-enhancing drugs that should be banned from the Olympics, he said, are those that have dangerous side-effects.
Sports drug merchants rejoiced at such an "open-minded, common sense" policy. The problem is, it's neither of those things. It's capitulation. The Olympic boss -- who later backed off his controversial comments -- was really saying, it's easier to let the drugs in than to continue the fight to keep them out.
He's wrong. There may be some performance-enhancing substances that don't show any immediate bad side-effects. But over the long-term, medical scientists will tell you, there's no way of knowing what the effects will be.
Muscle and weight-building steroids didn't seem to have any ill effects when National Football League stars began taking them in the 1970s. Now many of them, in their 40s and 50s, are aging quickly and dying prematurely.
Clearly, it's a cruel hoax to give high school and college athletes the impression they can take "sports drugs" without damaging their health. It's also unfair to athletes that don't take drugs. They are not being beaten by more talented, better-trained competitors, but by the drugs those competitors take.
Instead of throwing in the towel, sports authorities should step up the drug war. If not, they should at least put out two sets of statistics: One for the artificial achievements of athletes on drugs and the other for athletes who compete as God intended -- clean in mind, body and spirit.