Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rafa's blood and our right to know what's in it

The sporting world is currently fixated on Alex Rodriguez and
his admission to having taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs back
in the days when he was an innocent, confused, unthinking youngster of
27 or 28. When he and an equally young, innocent, unthinking, and
conveniently unnamed cousin jammed needles full of substances into each
other some 36 times, give or take a few jabs. And thanks to the scrutiny
of Alex, the spotlight has not been as focused on a similar issue
currently being discussed in the world of tennis.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has instituted a number of new rules in an
effort to reduce the likelihood of tennis players cheating their way
into victory and history. Players are now required to report their
whereabouts for at least one hour a day, seven days a week, to their
national anti-doping organization. Testers may or may not show up during
that hour. If they do, their arrival will be unannounced. And if a
player fails to meet with testers on three separate occasions within any
18-month period, they may be suspended from the sport.

I say "hurrah". It's about time. If baseball has taught us nothing else,
it has shown us the level of protection that cheaters have enjoyed from
their unions, owners, management, and yes, even from the media. Some of
these cheaters remained untouchable even as we watched them bulk up
faster than a force-fed chicken, and start looking ripped practically
overnight.

Surprise testing is the only way to go. It's a sad fact but as long as
there is big money on the line, there are some who will do anything to
get it. It's easy for those of us who are not wealthy to say that we
would never do certain things. But unless you've been placed in a
position where your values may be compromised for tremendous financial
gain, you have no idea of your capacity for resisting pernicious
influences. Forgive my cynicism for believing that few of us are immune
to temptation. We all have our inner Madoffs. One of the primary
purposes of religion is to give us the motivation to resist certain of
our baser human impulses. And where religion fails, the law is forced to
take over.

What keeps the majority of us honest is the fear of being caught. What
appears to have forced Alex Rodriguez' current verbal spillage is the
fact of having been caught. That and possibly the tell-all book about
him that will be coming out in a few months. I don't know if Mr.
Rodriguez is a reader but someone needs to introduce him to the legend
of Icarus and the dangers of flying too close to the sun.

But back to the world of tennis where Rafael Nadal, the #1 player in the
world and expected standard bearer, has denounced these new rules as a
form of "persecution" that make him "feel like a criminal". My response
to this is to tell Snr. Nadal that you can only feel like a criminal if
you are one. If you're innocent, you should be willing to piss in a cup
at a moment's notice. I would also remind him that no one becomes
successful without being highly organized. Even bottomfeeders can tell
you where they will be at 9 o'clock tomorrow. Having to organize your
schedule in advance is not too much of an imposition for keeping sports
clean. Earth to Nadal, it's our right to know if your blood is clean.

But Nadal is not alone in his protests. The recently bulked up Andy
Murray has also spoken out against the new rules, calling them
"draconian". And he's right. But you have to go draconian when people
insist on cheating. And if, as a player you do not cheat, then you would
want to welcome the rules even more. Not only do you not have a damn
thing to worry about, but you know that the Petr Kordas of the sport
will be caught long before they scissor-kick their way into unfairly
earned victories.

I used to have a coach who insisted that tennis was clean. He believed
that the endurance nature of the sport made it nonsensical to use
performance-enhancing drugs that favor sudden bursts of energy. In vain
I would argue that I was certain that there were labs that were already
working on concoctions that favored the slow and continuous energy
releases needed to play hours and hours of tennis. He would laugh at me
disparagingly. He had a degree in Sports Medicine. I was a lowly Ph.D.
psychologist. What the heck did I know? Of course he was the first
person I thought of calling when the Argentines started falling like
flies. Lucky for him I don't get off on saying "I told you so".

Tennis can take a page from the US military which has implemented many
efforts to reduce illegal drug use among service members. Command has
the right to ask a soldier to piss in a cup at a moment's notice. And there's
no secret pissing either - your penis has to be directly observed as it
takes aim. And that's just for being a soldier. Think of how much more
is at stake for professional sportspersons.

Just as likely as it is that many registrar offices in Beijing were
probably being purged to obfuscate the true ages of some of those
baby-faced gymnasts who wowed us at the most recent Olympics, so is it
likely that lab techs are secretly hard at work coming up with more and
more substances that can remain undetected by testing. Which is why I so
admire Roger Federer for being one of the few top tennis players to
endorse the need for these new regulations. I may rag on him but I do
adore him.


1 comment:

helen said...

if anything's there, it'll be in the hair...clipping a lock or two by the temples shouldn't hurt.((-:

I understand that testing a person's hair is reliable as whatever elements are in the body would be revealed in their hair.