On June 24th the World Anti-Doping Agency suspended the drug testing lab in Rio de Janeiro which was supposed to handle the drug testing for the upcoming Olympics. This announcement came (ironically) in the wake of the decision to ban Russian track and field athletes from those same Olympics due to WADA’s findings upon investigating an alleged state-sponsored doping system. This is frustrating and typical in the world of sports. For every step taken forward in the fight against illegal drug use, there is seemingly always one taken back. Even if we decide to keep the most egregious cheaters out of the Games, we can’t even manage to do a good job testing the ones that will still show up.
This is frustrating for a myriad of reasons, some of which I think I understand pretty well. First off, the hard work that clean athletes put into training every day, is devalued when it goes up against a similar amount of hard work done by drug users that somehow ends up resulting in better performances. Secondly, the knowledge that your body is filled with some sort of drug (like EPO) that makes athletic activity easier reduces the mental fatigue of competition, while the knowledge that your body is filled with something like Lucky Charms does the exact opposite. The list could go on and on and on, but the list is basically a list of reasons why doping lessens the significance of our sport (and really our lives.) And I think that’s complete horsecrap.
Now doping isn’t acceptable. It isn’t right, and we should do everything we can to stop it, but I think it’s important (and healthy) to acknowledge that our sport is going to keep on existing anyways. If WADA continues its investigation, and finds (hypothetically) that every single Russian skier since 2002 has been doped to the gills, guess what? There will still be races, and they will still matter. They, and the work we do to prepare for them, will matter more than ever.
If sports are what we all proclaim them to be: a beautiful distillation of our reality into 50 kilometers on a Sunday afternoon, then they shouldn’t be fair. Since when has our reality ever been fair? Since when has it been easy? Most of everyday life is defined by struggle i.e. “it was so hot today” “my boss is a jerk” “there was a moose in the middle of the road so we couldn’t so speeds.” The moments of triumph that we experience everyday are certainly more poignant, but they seem to come far less often, and if sports are going to be life in between the V-boards then they should be defined by the same unfairness that rules most of our weeks (especially it seems, Mondays.)
If we want to argue semantics and say that sports are just an attempt to create the sort of reality we ought to be living in, then why does doping matter? If we’re going to create a reality, then who says we shouldn’t create the most roided up one possible?
Now I believe that sports ought to mirror our real-life reality. It imbues them with far more meaning than having them mirror a reality defined by the IOC, the PTA, or any group smaller than everybody on the planet. And I know that life just cannot and will not ever be fair, so whats important then is that I (and everyone else) enter into athletics the way I (and they) want to live life.
Doping sucks to me, because I think it robs people of the opportunity to live life (all the struggles and the successes) in the right way. This could be considered a very selfish reason, but I believe that I have most of the world on my side. However, I also think that it serves a small but significant purpose beyond its cheating ways, it lionizes the lives of those of us who refuse to take shortcuts. This would be because we as a society seem to always value journeys that endure hardship; after all, who would Odysseus be if he had caught a sweet westerly wind and sailed straight home?
Again, doping isn’t right. It breaks the rules, but it doesn’t mean that the lives clean athletes build around skiing, or the sport itself matter any less.
The outcomes of our races are far from set in stone, but there are undoubtedly dark forces affecting out reality. There are phantom syringes and B-samples which manipulate the purity of our justice. These things are not necessarily full on conspiracies, but they sure as hell aren’t fair, but that’s why skiing still matters so much; ski racing is exactly like life.