POSTED: August 23rd 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: WADA needs to look again at the granting of TUES

Dick Fosbury employing the Fosbury Flop to win the gold medal in the men's high jump event during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City © Getty Images
Dick Fosbury employing the Fosbury Flop to win the gold medal in the men's high jump event during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Athletes have always tried to get an edge on their rivals. A slight increase in training, a new technique, an improvement in their equipment, innovative coaching and increasingly, over the last 50 years, the use of performance-enhancing drugs have all played their part in their drive to succeed.

Many of these developments have been to the benefit of sport. So Parry O'Brien, the 1952 and 1956 Olympic gold medallist, introduced his style of shot putting by moving across the circle backwards rather than sideways. Soon everyone was copying his style only for that to be superseded by the now more fashionable rotation technique.

Similarly, fellow American Dick Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic champion, transformed high jumping with his 'flop', which is still widespread today. These were examples of welcome technical innovations.

So was the diet for the marathon, which first became popular in the 1970s, and involved a period of a few days without carbohydrate and then overloading on it in the last three days before a race.

Many sportsmen and women have their particular foibles such as ingesting caffeine, up to the permitted level, before a competition, because of its qualities as a stimulant.

Probably the most controversial area in recent years has been the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUES), which many competitors need in order to compete on 'a level playing field' with their rivals. Without TUES, individuals suffering from asthma would not be able to take part in sport and as Dr. Richard Budgett, the director of medical services for the International Olympic Committee, points out, it would be unethical to deny them treatment which they need.

Dr Budgett was a member of Britain's coxed four who won the title at the 1984 Olympics and in that crew was Sir Steve Redgrave, who was to go on to win four more gold medals at the Games. Late in his career, it was discovered that Redgrave was a diabetic and needed insulin, without which one of the most glorious Olympic careers would not have been fulfilled.

The issue has again become prominent recently when the Russian group, 'Fancy Bears' succeeded in hacking into details of players given TUES at the 2010 Fifa World Cup, discovering that several leading players such as the Argentinians Carlos Tevez and Gabriel Heinze and Dutchman Dirk Kuyt were among 25 players granted TUES.

There is nothing wrong with that, although by insinuation, Fancy Bears, are suggesting that the numerous instances of malpractice by Russian athletes in taking performance enhancing drugs is no worse than foreign competitors using permissible TUES. It had previously shown that TUES had been given to Rafael Nadal, once again the world No.1 tennis player, Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles and Sir Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and multi-Olympic gold medallist.

In fact, only about one percent of athletes at the Games have been granted TUES. However, those that have are among the most celebrated. A further problem arises when competitors believe that they can benefit from taking certain medicines, sometimes even those which do not need a prescription for them and some of which are banned in certain circumstances in competition.

With athletes always looking for the extra edge over their rivals, they may think that, say, a common inhalant for asthma might give them the difference between winning and losing. They may even believe that they are slightly asthmatic and so persuade a doctor to give them a Tue.

Perception is often all with athletes. If they believe that they must have a certain meal before competition, undergo a certain routine or take a certain medicine, then they will do so.

The whole question of the granting of TUES is an intensely difficult one. While no athlete in real need of them, should be barred from taking them, morally no competitor should use them unless the medicine is really needed.

However, morals and the desire to win are not comfortable bed-fellows. TUES are an issue that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should look at again.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · WADA · John Goodbody

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