Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Can Athletes Beat the Drug Testers?

Hackers Highlight Drug Exemptions
Documents expose pharmaceutical habits of some of the biggest names in sports

Mo Farah of Great Britain winning gold in the
Men's 5000 meter final at the Rio Olympics
On September 13th a group of hackers calling themselves the Fancy Bears leaked drug-testing records of several Olympians stolen from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The Wall Street Journal discusses this controversial topic in the September 19th article, “Hackers Highlight Drug Exemptions”. The documents showed professional and Olympic athletes that have been taking medication to treat various health issues such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, and heart disease. But these therapeutic medications contain stimulants that are prohibited by WADA.
The leaks could be a retaliation for the exclusion of the Russian track-and-field team from the Rio Olympics, which was imposed after WADA discovered a state-sponsored doping program in Moscow last year.  Regardless of the identity of the hackers, the world now knows that several top athletes—including gymnastics gold-medalist Simone Biles, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams and Rafael Nadal, champion distance runner Mo Farah and former Tour de France champions Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome—have been taking banned substances.

Although there is no suggestion that these athletes have committed any offences, the leaks show that they have been given special permission to take these drugs via Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), an exemption introduced in 1991 so that sports stars requiring treatment with banned substances could receive it while remaining eligible to compete.

Interestingly enough, though professional athletes should be healthier than the average person, they are using some substances more frequently than the general population. The most alarming example is in baseball, a sport rife with doping scandals--the proportion of Major League Baseball players taking medication for ADHD is reportedly three times the national average. Irregularities exist among Olympians too. The global proportion of adults (ages 18-45) suffering from asthma was 4.3% in 2002. Oddly, 5.2% of participants at the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City were allowed to use Beta-2 agonists, which are typically prescribed for asthma but can also enhance muscle growth in high doses.

The hackers claim that such a flawed system produces a license for doping, if you will. The system is indeed open to abuse with the TUE’s prone to the possibility of being exploited and perhaps used to cover systematic cheating.  Clearly better oversight is needed.  If this is indeed a growing epidemic, how will this impact the future of international sports and the international marketers responsible for promoting these athletes and their decorated achievements? 

Consumers do not want to feel manipulated by the brands and the athletes they admire. Marketers can use ethical marketing as a way to develop a sense of trust among the public.  As such, if a celebrity, in this case an athlete’s integrity is trusted, so will the brands they advertise--it reflects positively on the entire company. There have been many instances where athletes have been dropped by corporate sponsors when an athlete's integrity has been questioned (Ryan Lochte we're looking at you). Whether or not this negative exposure will affect the future of sports marketing is yet to be seen.

Blog post by: Ally M.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Ally! I can't stand to see all of these athletes using performance enhancing substances and detracting from their credibility and the honor of the sport. It seems to be a vicious cycle in which they feel they have to cheat to stay on par...Now athletic competition at the elite (and sometimes even amateur) level seems to be a contest of how creative one can be to circumvent the drug testing.