Is there doping abuse in swimrun? Yes? No? Not sure? then keep reading…
There are many different views and opinions about doping in general but (statistical) research & studies are all conclusive on one thing: “nowadays abuse takes place in any sport and at any level”. It almost seems that saying #me too comes easier to people than saying #EPO me too. It clearly shows that cheating (by using prohibited substances) is still a taboo. We read about it all the time in the news but then it’s not something you come across personally on a daily basis. This leaves the door wide open for most of us to speculate and form some sort of personal judgement whether something or somebody is right or wrong. It’s often not based on facts but strong beliefs. I have made an attempt to understand why?
1. Dopers convince themselves and conveniently “Fly from the Facts” by using their “belief-protection” tool box.
Let’s start with a famous quote from Prof. Dan Ariely (from the book: The honest truth about dishonesty): “We want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We are story-telling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better”. It gets worse when we confront abusers with the (factual and scientific) truth that doping is cheating if you don’t follow the rules (i.e. ref: Wada Code). The chances are that he/she will revert to “a land where facts don’t matter” or cannot be verified. Here’s a famous one by Lance Armstrong: “I was not doing anything wrong, I just didn’t do anything to stop the doping culture”.
2. The power of marketing and pharmaceutics
We live in a pill and powder taking society. In this pharmacised world it has become socially acceptable to consume all sorts of drinks, gels, bars and shakes before, during and after training or racing. All supposedly designed to either boost energy, loose weight, relieve pain or simply look better. A lot of these products contain stimulants, like for instance: caffeine, ephedrine, opiods or worse. Don’t be fooled, in some countries the risk is high that the same production belt where powerful steroids are used to make body building products are also used to make your favourite “muscle recovery” shake. So, like a lot of things in life in order to do “the right thing” you have to engage yourself in some “critical thinking” by verifying the content and origin of your nutrition intake. My advice: stay away from any artificial food or drink supplements…you really don’t need it to obtain good results, if you follow a diverse and healthy diet.
Now, the other increasing area of concern is the ease at which you can get all sorts of medication over the counter these days. Great advancements in medication have been made to treat all sorts of pains and illnesses ranging from a simple headache to symptoms of burn-out or a chronically aching hamstring. The norm (by default) has become that people believe wholly in pharmaceutical based products ranging from simple pain killers, anti inflammatory gels to cortisone treatments. A lot of times these medicines are very good at treating the symptoms but equally good at masking the source of the problem which is often caused by things like mal nutrition, wrong technique, worn-out equipment, over-training or simply lack of confidence. I am trying to make a point here that people nowadays prefer to take the risk of getting caught (either intentionally or by mistake) by continuously taking medication that contain substances that are prohibited in or out of competition. My advice: if you reach the point where you take certain medication ALL the time without critically thinking if you
really need it for the purpose to get better than alarm bells should go off inside your head. It happens easier than you think! Confront yourself and trust in your own mental and physical capabilities to get better where possible. Yes, it’s tough but at least you’re competing with a clean body and a clear conscious which makes the experience of competing so much more (mentally) rewarding.
3. Psychosocial acceptance culture
Everybody is familiar with the expression: “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” and in case of cheaters it works exactly the same. I dare to go one step further by saying: “Believe in yourself and others are more likely to believe in you”. What does that mean? Well, cheaters who directly or indirectly communicate their inner belief (that there is nothing wrong with taking doping) will be very successful at transforming neutral non-believers into active believers. It happens so often that one cheater transforms a whole bunch of other athletes (who are often part of a small group) to become cheaters as well. Inside this group there is a clear shift that doping has become socially accepted. Once you’re part of it there is no way back as it has become a second reality. This kind of environment is the perfect set-up for the type of athlete who tends to “cheat-up to the level that allows them to retain their self image of reasonably honest individuals”.
Having said all this….what’s the solution to stop doping violations polluting the sport of swimrun? Well, the answer is not so straightforward but is based on a number of different approaches:
1. Introduce and explain the purpose of an anti-doping program where sanctions are clearly defined and communicated at all times.
2. Take doping out of the taboo atmosphere by openly educating people about the inherent health risks of taking prohibited substances
3. Create a tight swimrun community that strongly believes in the values of swimrun which are based on trust, respect and integrity
The first two approaches work well but it’s really the last one (in my view) that has a long lasting effect because it’s based on counter belief which can be equally powerful and effective as the contaminating and contagious belief of cheaters. When you make people aware (and in a way part of the problem) but at the same time make them realise and believe that together we can do something about it they will be prepared to contribute and offer solutions (even if it costs money to do so). For instance I am happy to donate a small amount of money as part of the entry fee for doping testing purposes or other means of keeping the sport clean.
Finally, if you’re not sure about doping than take a look at WADA’s website where you can find the WADA Code, Prohibited Substance List and other useful information. People who still try to convince themselves (and others) that it’s all “a bit of a grey area” don’t belong in swimrun in my opinion. As the title suggests: there is no half truth.
I hope by writing a blog about this rather controversial subject it brings us all closer together to take a stand against doping abuse in the sport we love:
We pledge: #No Doping in our Swimrun Community!
(please like this blog / FB page and share it with other swimrunners in order to help creating a “zero tolerance attitude” against doping in swimrun).
Me: Thomas Schreven
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