It’s been a bit since the last installment of “TANADA”, so before I begin with the next one, a brief…
TBV pointed out an interesting article on the Wired website (and in the current dead-trees issue, too) to me last week, about the use of biological markers for the early detection of cancer. On the fourth page of the article, is this, regarding the use of prolactin as an indicator of ovarian cancer:
Take the case of prolactin. In 2005, a research group at Yale announced it had identified several biomarkers that together could work as a test for ovarian cancer. (More markers mean better odds of a true positive, since different people have different proteins in their blood at different times.) The Yale markers included CA125; osteopontin, a protein believed to be overexpressed in several cancers; and prolactin, a pituitary hormone found in the breasts, ovaries, and other organs. The test for early detection of ovarian cancer was released commercially by LabCorp last June under the name OvaSure.
The results troubled the Canary ovarian team, which had already taken stock of a few of these and other markers and ruled them as insufficient for a valid test. The inclusion of prolactin, in particular, stood out. “It looked wrong to me,” says Nicole Urban, head of gynecological cancer research at the Hutchinson Center. “It seemed highly unlikely that it was related to the cancer.”
So Urban ran her own study, comparing prolactin levels in women with ovarian cancer to those who were cancer-free. She also introduced further variables: when and under what circumstances the blood was drawn. It turned out that during a routine blood test, prolactin was present in normal levels among cases and controls alike. But the levels spiked dramatically when blood was drawn right before the patient went into surgery–whether it was surgery for ovarian cancer or another procedure. In other words, Urban concluded, it seems that prolactin isn’t a biomarker for cancer. It’s a biomarker for a stressed-out patient about to go under the knife. (Last fall, after the Food and Drug Administration warned that there were “serious regulatory problems” with the OvaSure test, LabCorp withdrew it from the market).
Before using a biomarker as an indicator of something, one needs to be sure that its presence really means what one thinks it means. This has some interesting implications for the development of anti-doping tests, too. Over at the Daily Peloton Forums is the beginning of a discussion on the subject. As of this writing, there are no responses to the original post.
Another interesting site that’s taking up the discussion of whether the use of performance-enhancing drugs (doping) should be allowed in sports is ProCon.org. The site presents quotes and comments both in favor and against various questions and issues related to doping in sports. ProCon.org also has sites that discuss other issues, too. For each person or organization quoted, they give a starred “credibility” rating. Among their caveats about the rating system is this:
Some 1 star individuals can be more credible than 3 or 4 starred sources. All organizations receive 1 or 2 stars regardless of their actual credibility
Kind of begs the question: Why bother with the ratings if such a statement is true. It’s an interesting site, however, with comments and quotes from a wide range of people across the spectrum, including yours truly.
Right, then. With that, on to tonight’s main topic, which is …
How To Deal With Organized Doping
Up to now, most of the discussion has been about dealing with cases where an individual is accused of doping. As we’ve seen a number of times in cycling and other sports, there are times when doping is an organized activity on a much larger scale than just one athlete using various performance-enhancing drugs. It may be organized at a team level (like the Festina scandal in 1998) or it may be at the level of a sport’s national governing body, or it may even be at a national level like a national Olympic committee (East Germany comes to mind).
In cases of organized doping, where an entire group is cheating, punishing the individual athletes will only address the surface problem. It won’t address the overall problem. So how should such cases be handled?
There are at least two approaches, each valid and each providing a certain amount of justice. Many of the scandals involving organized doping have been unearthed by law enforcement agencies. In those cases, the punishment comes in the form of criminal trials and potential jail time. Given that various laws may be broken in such cases (distributing medications without proper medical cause, drug trafficking), it seems fitting that the people who are at the center of such efforts should be prosecuted for the crimes they’ve committed. The accused will get the full benefit of the legal system. Of course, if found guilty, the accused will also face punishment that could include prison time.
But what about doping that doesn’t break any laws, but still imparts a performance advantage. For example, the use of various over-the-counter medications that contain banned stimulants, or even the use of various techniques or equipment banned by a sport (bikes that are too light come to mind). In such cases, the only thing that’s happened is that a sport’s rules have been broken. Since no real crimes have been committed, using the legal system seems inappropriate.
Looking to various sports for examples, it seems to me that the kinds of punishment that should be levied against an organized effort would consist of the following types of items:
- Team results being nullified or teams being relegated to last place in a particular event
- Teams being relegated to the last place in a ranking system
- Teams being barred from competition at tournaments, invitational competitions, championships, and so forth
- Teams being relegated to a lower competition division. For example, a ProTour team would be downgraded to Pro Continental status or lower
- Those who organize team doping programs being suspended or banned from a sport, with the length of the ban determined based on the seriousness of the cheating going on
- Teams being barred from drafting or signing new talent for a period of time, which again would be based on the seriousness of the cheating going on
As with the punishment for athletes, the severity of the punishment should fit the “crime.” Of course, an organized doping program is a much more serious offense than a single athlete caught doping for a big event. The mere fact of organizing a doping program shows a serious intention to cheat and to cheat at a broader level, so the punishment inflicted on a team whose leaders have such a program should be much more severe than might be the case for an individual who gets caught using a particular performance-enhancing drug.
Organized doping programs that have long-lasting effects (for instance, an entire team that is doped with EPO) should have the most severe punishments, while those with shorter effects might warrant a lesser punishment. Perhaps.
Who should determine such punishments? Again, this may be best left to those who govern a sport — the international federations. Responsibility for enforcing the overall rules (and responsibility for prosecuting violations) would fall on the various national governing bodies for a given sport. By setting the rules at the international level, they would then be consistent regardless of what country an athlete comes from.
The catch is when organized doping programs stray into the area of criminal behavior. When that’s the case, those who are accused of being responsible should be subject to the full rights and protections of the legal system, but they should also be subject to the full weight of the punishments that could be imposed should they be found guilty. In addition, the organizers would be subject to the laws of the country or countries where their efforts took place. If caught in France, then it’s a case for the French justice system. If caught in the US, it would be the American justice system. And so on.
So what about a team caught up in a criminal prosecution? How should we deal with their results? Once the legal case is settled and guilt determined, then the governing bodies for the sport should look at the time period the cheating occurred and adjust the team’s results accordingly. If an organized doping program existed for ten years, once a conviction occurred in court or in a sport-specific proceeding it would be appropriate to readjust the past ten years of team results. That would be small (or no) comfort to the other athletes who were robbed of better placings as a result, but it’s the right thing to do.
For sports where prize money is paid, it seems appropriate that the cheaters would have to make their victims whole. In other words, they’d have to pay out their ill-gotten prize money to those who should have received it. Perhaps with interest.
Do we need to create any special laws to deal with doping? To me, the answer is “no.” Drug trafficking is already illegal in most countries, as is distributing controlled substances without a proper authorization. If a team’s manager, trainers, doctors or others broke such laws, then they should be held accountable under those laws, too. Those types of doping that aren’t of a criminal nature shouldn’t be criminalized. Instead, those are the types of things that are best left to each sport’s governing bodies.
So that’s a brief look at dealing with organized doping. In the next post, I’ll be going back and discussing some of the suggestions that have appeared in the comments to this and previous posts in the series.