restricted access 6. “May I See Your Passport?” The Athlete Biological Passport as a Technology of Control

From: Game Changer

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The proliferation of performance-­ enhancing drugs has put professional sport ­ under an uncomfortable microscope. In recent years, Major League Baseball has strug­ gled to manage the public perception of its game in light of drug usage attributed to high-­ profile players such as Jose Canseco , Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Braun, to name a few.1 In the Italian Series A soccer league, the Juventus Football Club has been accused of administering erythropoietin to its players, and questions have persisted regarding the use of performance-­ enhancing drugs in professional soccer throughout Eu­ rope.2 However, over the past few de­ cades, cycling has become the global centerpiece of the pharmaceutically driven sport. It has become common practice for the press to ponder the purity of ­ every Tour de France champion. The recent confessions of Lance Armstrong and a host of other elite cyclists, along with claims that cycling has cleaned itself up, has done nothing to restore the public’s faith in direct drug testing or quell the suspicion of ­ every professional cyclist.3 The autumnal transition from road cycling to cyclo-­ cross seems to never come soon enough for a sport percolating with tensions and accusations. The Union Cycliste Internationale has been a driving force in the attempt to stabilize the sport and reform its own significantly diminished image. In many ways, this has been the or­ ga­ ni­ za­ tion’s charge from the very beginning. The UCI was formed in Paris on April 14, 1900, when the 6 “May I See Your Passport?” The Athlete Biological Passport as a Technology of Control The Athlete Biological Passport 179 cycling governing bodies of Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States met in Paris to pool resources and to strengthen cycling as a sport. Beginning with the guidance of its first president, Belgian Emile De Beukelaer, the UCI has effectively managed competitive cycling as it moved beyond its Eu­ ro­ pean roots and developed into an international sporting business.4 Over the past ­ century, the UCI has weathered many storms that have questioned its governing ability. It has attempted to legislate a balance among the advances in material science, engineering, and athletic per­ for­ mance. But its most recent charge, with support from the World Anti-­ Doping Agency, has been to control the explosion of the most recent generation of performance-­ enhancing substances. Initially introduced in the late 1960s, direct testing for specific banned substances has had varying degrees of effectiveness. ­ These tests initially ­ were directed at a variety of stimulants that fell ­ under the category of amphetamines. Developments in chromatography and mass spectroscopy fine-­ tuned the detection protocols, leading to greater success identifying substances (e.g., diuretics, stimulants, and narcotics) not normally found in the body. Yet over the past several de­ cades, the UCI, the International Olympic Committee, and the WADA have strug­ gled to­ handle the proliferation of performance-­ enhancing substances such as recombinant proteins or peptides, which possess the same or very similar chemical structure to ­ those naturally produced in the body.5 It has become even more difficult, and in many cases impossible, to create tests for substances that governing bodies do not know exist. Initially , the UCI touted its success in catching offending cyclists as proof that it governed the cleanest professional sport in the world. Though this claim may have been valid, the scale of the investigations and disciplinary actions gave the perception that drug users ­ were not aberrations, but the norm. The UCI’s ability to catch and, most importantly, publicize offenders dwarfed all other sports combined. Nevertheless, the UCI contended that if it did not curtail the growing drug prob­ lem, its sport would soon be delegitimized completely. In an effort to regain control of the sport, the UCI redoubled its technoscientific efforts to support the development and creation of a new technoscientific fix. It hoped this new instrument would become the magic bullet that would solve all of its performance-­ enhancing drug prob­ lems. The fix is now known as the athlete biological passport.6 Yet the ABP, just Evaluating Bodies 180 like all forms of drug testing, is much less about exacting accuracy than about creating a compelling and believable narrative about exacting accuracy . This narrative demands that for direct testing to be useful and meaningful , it has to function as a truth-­ making mechanism. The supporting narrative for fans, athletes, and all invested in a sporting culture is that direct testing ­ will...


Subject Headings

  • Sports -- Technological innovations.
  • Sports -- Physiological aspects.
  • Performance technology.
  • Doping in sports.
  • Sports sciences.
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