Bioethics Blogs

Doping: Alive and Well in the Tour But You Won’t Hear About It

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my argument for legalising doping in sport, aiming to focus resources on harm reduction rather than zero tolerance. Key safeguards in this approach are (1) doping carried out under the supervision of a doctor, and (2 ) checks on athletes to ensure they maintain normal physiological ranges of relevant parameters.

Many commentators consider this approach unrealistic. But as the world’s elite riders commence the Tour de France 2015, it appears that they will be riding under something very close to that vision.

In March this year, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission published a report into current doping practices. It concludes that doping is still prevalent, with estimates from those in the sport ranging from 20 – 90% of athletes participating in doping.

However, two mechanisms within anti – doping policy, the Athlete Biological Passport, and the Therapeutic Use Exemption, appear to be functioning effectively as regulators on doping behaviour: enhancing its safety and limiting its impact, without preventing its use outright.

The Biological Passport provides an individualised biological profile for each athlete, against which new tests are measured. Unusual variations are then a proxy for a failed drug test.

The Therapeutic Use Exemption enables a doctor to sign off on certain banned substances if the rider has a specific medical need.
The Biological Passport has, according to the Commission, reduced the level of doping:

“One rider confirmed to the Commission that following the introduction of the ABP [biological passport] he was told by his doping doctor to only conduct transfusions of a maximum of 150—200 ml blood, whereas the size of the blood bags previously used by USPS/Discovery Channel and Team Telekom/T-Mobile (according to the Reasoned Decision and Freiburg Report) amounted to 500 ml.”

“Gradually, 10-15% gains have become a thing of the past.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.