Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008

Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008

Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008

Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008

Synopsis

On August 26, 1960, twenty-three-year-old Danish cyclist Knud Jensen, competing in that year's Rome Olympic Games, suddenly fell from his bike and fractured his skull. His death hours later led to rumors that performance-enhancing drugs were in his system. Though certainly not the first instance of doping in the Olympic Games, Jensen's death serves as the starting point for Thomas M. Hunt's thoroughly researched, chronological history of the modern relationship of doping to the Olympics. Utilizing concepts derived from international relations theory, diplomatic history, and administrative law, this work connects the issue to global political relations.

During the Cold War, national governments had little reason to support effective anti-doping controls in the Olympics. Both the United States and the Soviet Union conceptualized power in sport as a means of impressing both friends and rivals abroad. The resulting medals race motivated nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain to allow drug regulatory powers to remain with private sport authorities. Given the costs involved in testing and the repercussions of drug scandals, these authorities tried to avoid the issue whenever possible. But toward the end of the Cold War, governments became more involved in the issue of testing. Having historically been a combined scientific, ethical, and political dilemma, obstacles to the elimination of doping in the Olympics are becoming less restrained by political inertia.

Excerpt

Given the sheer scope of the doping epidemic that has engulfed Olympic sport since the 1960s, it is tempting to ask whether the founder of the modern Olympic Games, the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, might have anticipated that widespread drug use would eventually infiltrate the world of high-performance sport. This may seem like a far-fetched speculation; most people, after all, regard doping as a recent development and do not associate the nascent sports world of the 1890s with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. This view is, however, mistaken; it was well known at the time that the long-distance cyclists of the 1890s were using dangerous drugs like heroin and strychnine. The difference between then and now is that this early doping was not regarded as an illicit practice; it was rather seen as an antidote to the extreme fatigue experienced by the elite athletes of that era.

De Coubertin’s creation of the modern Olympics thus coincided with the early phase of sports medicine that included informal testing of less toxic substances such as milk, tea, and alcoholic beverages. While it is conceivable that de Coubertin could have read about such experimentation in the 1894 volume of the Archives de physiologie normale et pathologique, there is no evidence that he did. De Coubertin did, however, anticipate the consequences of the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (“faster, higher, stronger”), and he did so without the trepidations of today’s anti-doping activists. De Coubertin knew that the modern sport for which he had created an international stage possessed an element of what he called “excess.” “We know,” he said in 1901, “that [sport] tends inevitably toward excess, and that this is its essence, its indelible mark.” Nor was de Coubertin the only Olympic visionary in this respect. “Not to develop the latent possibilities of the human body,” a famous Olympian wrote in 1919, “is a crime, since it certainly violates the law of nature.” The author of this Promethean declaration was none other than Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1952 to 1972. As Thomas M. Hunt documents in . . .

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