Columnists 22.9.2016 12:36 pm

Doping: put that in your pipe and smoke it

A former South African cricketer once told me that golf can’t be regarded as a sport.

“Quite simply, how can you take a sport seriously during which a player can puff on a cigarette throughout his round? That simply shouldn’t be acceptable,’’ was his assessment.

Replying with a polite chuckle, I didn’t have the guts to ask him how the sport that put him on the map’s credibility measured up to his strenuous yardstick. Don’t tell me that smokers like Pat Symcox didn’t have puff at the back of the dressing-room during tea time. But I supposed he would have argued that there is a difference between lighting up between sessions rather than between deliveries, so I refrained from entering a debate which would have been very hotly contested no doubt.

Over the course of the last few weeks leaked medical information on some of the world’s top sportsmen and women forced me to revisit the topic I have had parked in my mind for a good decade. A cyber espionage group who calls themselves the Fancy Bears have been releasing data after hacking into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) database.

The group is believed to be Russian and their actions are widely regarded as sour grapes in retaliation to the doping mess the country’s sports fraternity finds itself in. The bottom line is that none of these revelations exposed any of the victims for wrongdoing.

The medication these athletes have taken might appear on Wada’s prohibited list, but they were allowed under “therapeutic use exemptions’’, referred to as TUEs. This can be issued to athletes who have an illness or condition that requires the use of normally prohibited medication. Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins were both granted permission to use triamcinolone, widely regarded as a potent steroid.

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong was bust for the use of triamcinolone during his first Tour win in 1999 and was only saved by a back-dated prescription for an ointment to help heal saddle sores containing the substance. Wiggins has come out swinging after the leak, saying he received a triamcinolone shot – just four days ahead of the 2012 Tour which he won – as an intramuscular treatment for asthma.

However, he never mentioned the shot in his autobiography My Time, reflecting on his historic Tour win. If you have nothing to hide, then why keep quiet? Then there is Maria Sharapova, who was banned after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open only a few weeks after it was added to the banned list on January 1, 2016. She claimed to have taken the medication for a decade to combat a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes, so she surely stood a good chance of getting the thumbs-up to take meldonium as a TUE after it became prohibited?

Apart from taking a few pot shots at famous people, the leaks do open up a can of worms in the ever-present world of doping in sport. And it does make the line between illegal and “legal’’ medication look very thin. The thought of a golfer taking a drag between putts suddenly seems so insignificant.

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