Call to legalise sport doping dismissed

The doping question has caused contoversy worldwide Keystone

Switzerland's anti-doping commission has rejected a proposal to allow the country's athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs under medical supervision.

This content was published on October 19, 2006 - 22:00

The idea from a leading sports scientist to legalise such substances would result in the "death of sport", the commission told a Swiss Olympic Association meeting in Bern on Thursday.

The argument comes in the wake of a recent scandal surrounding team Phonak cyclist Floyd Landis who was stripped of his Tour de France winner's medal after testing positive for abnormal levels of testosterone.

But Bengt Kayser, professor of exercise physiology at Geneva University's faculty of medicine, argued that a continued blanket ban on drugs in sport is both a waste of money and hypocritical.

He believes the only way to combat the growing problem is with a two-pronged approach of giving doctors the discretion to prescribe any substance that does not damage health, and to step up efforts to educate athletes.

"In elite sports I am convinced that we cannot win the war against doping. If you want to get rid of drugs in sport you will have to do away with sport itself," he told swissinfo.

"You only have to look at the way Switzerland tackles the problem of recreational drugs with a mixture of solutions to see how you can effectively lessen the damage."


Anti-doping commission president Hans Hoppeler dismissed Kayser's argument that the current system is not working and simply drives the problem underground into the hands of criminals.

"The perception that we are losing the fight against doping is wrong. Drug taking is prevalent is some areas, like cycling, but the reason that not so many athletes are caught in general is that only a few actually cheat," he told swissinfo.

"We must continue to improve the quality of testing, educating athletes, close more loopholes and weed the bad people out of the system. But we cannot expect miracles; we will need another seven or ten years."

Legalising doping would force more athletes to take drugs to compete on a level playing field, which would put the public completely off sport, he added. Furthermore, it would encourage children to imitate their heroes.

But Kayser accused the authorities of isolating sport from society by putting too much pressure on stars to lead perfect lives.

"Why do we ask sports people to set such examples? You cannot expect an athlete to display superhuman behaviour and always pay their taxes. This attitude is fraught with hypocrisy," he said.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

In brief

Professor Bengt Kayser previously put forward his theories in the medical journal, The Lancet, in an article co-authored with two other scientists last year.

In that article they argue that athletes should be entitled to take some banned substances to help them recover from injuries sustained while participating in sports. They also wrote that the boundaries between therapeutic and performance enhancing drugs is too blurred to be policed properly.

US cyclist Floyd Landis won the Tour de France in July, but was sacked by his Swiss team, sponsored by hearing aid manufacturers Phonak, a month later after failing his second drugs test. Phonak have severed their links with cycling after a string of doping scandals.

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