Workers Vanguard No. 1086

25 March 2016


Who’s Next?

Sports Snoops Slam Sharapova

It’s been a big year so far for the creepy little anti-drug czars and czarinas who hold sway over the world of organized sports. The latest trophy on their mantel is tennis star Maria Sharapova, who faces a two-to-four year suspension after testing positive for meldonium during the Australian Open in January. This heart medication was banned as a possible performance enhancer by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) just a few weeks before Sharapova tested positive for it.

The prohibition of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sport reflects the irrationality of capitalist society. As we wrote in “Baseball, Racism and Steroids” (WV No. 946, 6 November 2009):

“A rational society would both embrace the potentialities of improving human athletic performance, particularly the broader uses of anabolic steroids in muscle and tendon repair that would benefit a broad range of society, while at the same time conducting an objective scientific study of the potential medical dangers. But capitalism is not rational.”

Meldonium is used medically to increase blood flow, prevent the enlargement of the heart muscle and increase stress tolerance. Sharapova has been using the medication, under the brand name Mildronate, since her family doctor recommended it in 2006 for a variety of medical problems, including a series of irregular EKGs, magnesium deficiency and tests showing signs of diabetes (she has a family history of the disease).

Sharapova’s banishment has pulled back the veil on the Kafkaesque workings of WADA. A panel reviews the results of drug tests that athletes are regularly required to take. If one substance, like meldonium, pops up more than others it is presumed to be a performance enhancer. Thus, meldonium was placed on WADA’s Monitoring Program in 2015, and WADA supposedly gave notice in emails to Sharapova and others that its use would be banned.

In fact, there are dozens of legal medications and dietary supplements that have been declared verboten by the Big Brothers of sport. These include an assortment of other medications: beta blockers for heart ailments, bronchodilators for asthma and the cold remedy pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Even caffeine, which was banned for 20 years until 2004, when the WADA prigs deemed it too hard to police, is now again being considered for prohibition.

In an unprecedented move, Russia was provisionally suspended last November from track and field in the wake of sweeping doping allegations against the country’s athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors and officials. The ban could keep all of Russia’s athletes from the 2016 Olympic games—whether or not the individuals ever tested positive. It is a measure of the stifling weight of U.S. imperialism that, as it maneuvers against the regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin, it has succeeded in keeping Russian athletes out of competition.

To make WADA’s “do not use” list, a substance has to meet two out of three criteria: it represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete; it violates the spirit of sport; it has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance.

The first is sadly laughable considering not just the traumatic brain injuries that are an occupational hazard for football players and other athletes. The Olympics continue to feature the blood sport of boxing, which, if taking place on a street corner rather than a Roman amphitheater, would land its participants in jail for felony assault. As to the “spirit” of sport, the golden rule of American athletics was enunciated by Vince Lombardi, famous coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

As for PEDs, a piece titled “Testing Athletes, and Banning Those Who Take Drugs, Is Unjustifiable” in the British Medical Journal (22 May 2012) by Dr. Sam Shuster noted that PEDs have not been subjected to the double-blind controlled studies standard for scientific inquiries. Dr. Shuster added:

“Why is help from drugs ‘cheating’—an unfair advantage from outside help rather than personal effort—when we allow specialised training equipment, sports psychologists, physiologists applying optimising monitors, electronic positioning of cyclists in relation to pedals and handlebars, and dieticians using foods and additives as drugs? What makes a covert team of sports specialists fair, and taking a pill cheating? Why is training in a low oxygen chamber acceptable but not erythropoietin?”

Like sharks, the WADA predators have been emboldened by a little taste of blood. Coming off the ban on Sharapova, WADA has announced that, based on enhanced testing techniques, it will rescreen results from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics to go after “cheaters.”

The small gang that decides who can play and who cannot doesn’t rule in a social vacuum. WADA is the end-product of the hysteria over performance enhancers—which had previously been handed out like M&Ms in U.S. locker rooms—as a response to the international successes of athletes from the Soviet Union and the East European bureaucratically deformed workers states in the 1970s and ’80s. Meldonium itself was developed by Soviet scientists in Latvia in the 1970s. It was used by Red Army soldiers in the 1980s to enable them to carry out operations in mountainous terrains during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan against the murderous U.S.-financed and -armed mujahedin, the precursors of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS.

We say: Let Maria Sharapova play! Down with the ban on PEDs! Whether an individual uses drugs—for fun or perceived enhancement of athletic ability—is a personal choice. Down with the war on drugs!