Yet another doping scandal has broken out in the US. This time, the culprit is 36-year-old cycling athlete John Gleaves, who had a reputation for being vehemently against the use of banned substances by athletes. The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has disqualified Gleaves for four years, starting from 31 August 2019, over a positive doping test taken at the US Masters Track National Championships. His sample was found to contain oxandrolone (an anabolic steroid) and clomiphene (a metabolic modulator).
Of particular interest is the fact that, in addition to cycling, Gleaves is also a professor at California State University’s Department of Kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement), and one of his research areas is the use of banned substances in sport. The American was a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) working group on the prevalence of doping, and also USA Cycling’s Anti-Doping Advisory Board.
The US athlete also appeared as a witness for the defence in the doping case against cyclist Lance Armstrong. During the trial brought against Armstrong by the US Department of Justice, he argued against the defendant being stripped of his titles and prize money, saying that there are banned substances at every turn in cycling, and no athlete can say he or she trains without them.
One wonders what led Gleaves to develop such certainty and cynicism with regard to the use of doping: his scientific research, his work with WADA, or his own sporting career. But one thing is clear – until very recently, he successfully combined all three areas of his busy life. The issue of how widely the research of Gleaves and similar sports scientists has been used in practice in the US requires further study.
The Sports Inquisition
As yet, WADA’s position is unknown. The world’s athletic inquisition is keeping silent about its rule-breaking former employee. It is also in no hurry to the talk about the state doping programme being used to train US athletes. This is strange because, of late, WADA has demonstrated lightning-fast reactions, persistence and political allegiance when it comes to decision making. Just in December last year, for example, WADA gave the harshest ruling possible when it suspended Russian athletes from international tournaments and Olympic competitions for four years. In February this year, meanwhile, WADA disqualified China’s three-time Olympic swimming champion and 11-time world swimming champion Sung Yang.
Everyone has heard the slogans of international sporting officials and anti-doping activists like Gleaves regarding clean and honest sports in which banned substances and stimulants will not be tolerated. As it turns out, however, the reality is that the modern professional sports movement cannot give strong performances or even set new records without pharmaceutical support. In fact, world sport is built on doping and the skills of countries’ sports physicians to get around official bans and doping tests.
It is no secret that the US keeps international sporting organisations on a tight leash. To prove US meddling in world sports, one has only to recall the FIFA bribery case initiated by America. This extremely biased investigation, which ended in a series of high-profile resignations and convictions, was headed by Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General under Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, the US has seen a high number of scandals associated with the use of doping, other stimulants, and the violation of sporting ethics. The nature and scale of these violations would shock even the most sophisticated of imaginations. Due to America’s huge influence on the rules in world sport, however, they have never led to any serious sanctions or had any other significant repercussions for US sport.
For example, the American sprinter and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, who has repeatedly been convicted of doping, is still allowed to take part in sporting events. It goes without saying that no one is talking about stripping him of his medals. And hardly anyone now remembers the enormous doping scandal that broke out in America in the mid-2000s, known in the press as the BALCO scandal. It was discovered that 20 US athletes from various sports (track and field, baseball, American football, boxing) had been taking banned anabolic steroids developed by the laboratory.
No international sporting sanctions were imposed against America, of course, while the athletes involved in the scandal were suspended from competitions for token lengths of time. The high-profile case mentioned above of US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of all medals for years of doping, did not result in any kind of sanctions for USA Cycling either.
Using the official comparative statistics of positive doping tests among athletes from various countries, WADA, at America’s behest, has only suspended Russia from competitions. But, according to these statistics, there are 15 countries that top Russia in terms of the number of positive tests as a percentage of total tests, and the US is just two places behind Russia. What’s more, not only is Russia topped by Mexico, Thailand and India, which do not have much success in sport, but also more serious sporting nations like France, Canada and Sweden. Yet harsh international sanctions for doping violations have only been imposed on Russia. What’s that, if not double standards?
A separate issue is transgender people in American sport. According to sporting regulations, athletes who have changed sex and regularly take hormones are actually exempt from rigorous drug testing. In addition, men who have become women and win women’s competitions are essentially untouchable when it comes to criticism and beyond the reach of regular medical examinations.
At the same time, transgender women are winning more and more women’s competitions. Transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon is smashing women’s cycling records, and Texas transgender boy Mack Beggs competes against and defeats girls in freestyle wrestling. Thus, not only are the traditions of the international sports movement being violated, but also the laws of biology. The physical advantages that transgender women have over cisgender women in sport has been established by credible research, but no conclusions are being drawn.
In Place of a Conclusion
We are forced to admit that in sport, as in everything else, the US has one set of rules for itself and another for those brave enough to challenge their righteousness. But, in the modern world, the unimpeded use of such an approach is becoming increasingly akin to targeted persecution, aggression, and even full-scale war. Unleashed under the specious pretext of a ‘war on doping’, it is actually becoming a war on specific athletes, competitors, countries and, ultimately, a war on sport itself. Selective measures, double standards and the politicised decisions of international sporting organisations will inevitably affect the sports movement as a whole, athletes and fans, while the sporting events that have been so heavily commercialised of late are threatening to turn from a show into an open farce.