What We Can Learn from the Russian Doping Scandal

The last few days I’ve been ruminating on the newly released report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accusing Russia of sponsoring a doping program for their top international athletes. I’ve always been opposed to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and found this new development, especially at a time when PED use has been so criticized on the US and Olympic stages, upsetting. I immediately sided with WADA, which suggested that all Russian athletes be banned from international competition.

However, when the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) actually announced the ban, including from the upcoming Rio Olympics, my reaction shifted. The ban doesn’t address the issue in a constructive way, but rather continues the witch hunt for athletic dopers that has been rampant for the past 20 years.

Perhaps it's time we change our approach to addressing drug-use in professional sports. (duncan/Flickr)

The IAAF has called the WADA report a “wake-up call” and an opportunity to explore the question of PED use internally. I believe that this does, indeed, provide an excellent opportunity for the international athletic community to take a closer look at the allure of performance enhancers.

I hope the IAAF begins a conversation surrounding the reasons why athletes, their coaches, and their countries continue to promote PED use as a viable way of authentically representing themselves and their homelands.

As a former collegiate sprinter at the DIII level, the dream of being the best in the conference or running at nationals was always on the periphery of my mind. I would have loved to have reached that height of achievement. However, had a coach encouraged me to take PEDs in order to do so, I would have said no.

My achievements on the track were only valid when I knew they came wholly from myself. This is, in my opinion, the beauty of athletics. We are able to challenge ourselves to accomplish great things by pushing the human body to its organic limits. That’s how we honor our schools, our countries, and ourselves. As soon as we stoop to PEDs in order to gain success, we say that our hard work is not enough. We say that we need something else to make our efforts and successes valid.

The Russian Doping Scandal provides a perfect opportunity for the international athletic community to engage in a conversation around this. Rather than solely punishing the offenders and all Russian athletes, even the clean ones, the IAAF could begin a conversation about the reasons behind PED use. It could investigate why PEDs continue to be an issue in professional sports. It could ask questions of PEDs users, not to vilify them but to better understand their drive. A conversation might even inspire athletes around the globe, especially young ones, to view their accomplishments not in the context of others', but in relation to personal growth and achievement.

At the beginning of every academic year at Kenyon College, all of the student athletes gathered in a room for a discussion of NCAA policy, part of which covered PEDs. I can’t help but think that the conversation would have been more inspiring had the topic been covered in a way leading the athletes themselves to the conclusion that their organic performance, to the best of their ability, is far more meaningful than any record or victory achieved through the use of PEDs. Imagine if this were the conversation spread around the world. What a different relationship we’d have with competition and achievement.

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What We Can Learn from the Russian Doping Scandal

Jacob Fishbein

Jake is a man of passion. He is drawn to obscure history, Red Sox baseball, creative cooking, and a plethora of other pursuits. An alumnus of Kenyon College, where he spent most days with a pile of history books next to him in the library and flew to two school records on the track & field team, he now lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently writing stories and speeches, building a coalition of cafes, roasters, and consumes who support The Coffee Trust’s efforts to empower farmers at origin, and is reveling in discovery on a daily basis. Follow him on Instagram @CookingCulture and Twitter @CaptainFishlegs.

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