Friday, February 10, 2006

Vanity of Vanities

It's interesting how many products aimed at people's vanities seem to be used by sports stars. Shane Warne was famously banned for a year for taking a slimming pill that can also be used as a masking agent. In the last couple of days, both an ice-hockey goaltender and the skeleton-bob favourite in the Winter Olympics have been found to have used hair restoration drugs which contain masking agents.

There's a couple of issues that arise from this. Firstly, both instances saw the home federations of the athletes argue that no ban was necessary. Now, far be it from me to be cyncial, but particularly where the US are concerned, I don't have much sympathy. They always seem to be equivocal in condemning drug use. Sanctions in the NFL and MLB are derisory in the extreme; the US Olympic Federation allowed Jerome Young to compete in the Sydney Olympics despite having tested positive for drugs the year before.

One of the biggest problems that sports authorities have in dealing with the issue of drugs is not the matter of the drugs themselves. It is that athletes are becoming increasingly savvy at how to beat the testers, whether it be through loopholes in the law, or through increasing use of masking agents. The only way that drug laws can be effectively policed is if a missed test or a test for a masking agent is treated as if it were positive - and the culprits punished to the fullest extent.

Vanity is not an excuse. I'd always have thought being on top of the podium was the most important thing, not looking good if you got there.