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  • The Spirit of Sport and the Medicalisation of Anti-Doping: Empirical and Normative Ethics1
  • Michael J. McNamee (bio)

I. Introduction

There has been much discussion in academic conferences and sport policy-makers with respect to the role of anti-doping (McNamee and Møller 2011; Hanstad, Smith and Waddington 2008). Put simply, there is a potential schism between the overarching function of anti doping — is it first and foremost a sports-related issue, or is it more generally to be understood as a public health issue? (Møller et al. 2009)? It is clear that these two aspects are not mutually exclusive such that the question cannot simply be a case of which should be its focus. Sports are, after all, social practices, engaged in by hundreds of millions of people. What goes on in these practices, to the extent that it affects the health of its participants, must also be a public health issue, irrespective of its (disputed) significance.

Nevertheless, one particularly problematic aspect of present anti-doping policy relates to the existence of what are often and variously referred to as “social drugs”, “recreational drugs” or “substances of abuse”, in the list of prohibited methods and substances that comprise “doping” as defined the global body responsible for anti-doping: the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The focus of this article is whether and how the presence of Cannabinoids on the Prohibited List (PL) is justified or not. Many scholars, scientists, and key actors in anti-doping policy — in confidential interviews — have argued that it should not be included. They argue that the presence of Cannabinoids is present on the Prohibited List merely as an extraneous and unwelcome function of governmental intrusion on sport and not because of any coherent [End Page 374] anti-doping policy. In effect, it is thought to be a political intrusion that is paternalistic and, in effect, a “moral policing” of high-profile athletic populations. They argue, moreover, that the criterion, which facilitates Cannabinoids’ inclusion on the PL (that it is against the “Spirit of Sport”), is conceptually vague and should be removed. They believe this will negate the presence of Cannabinoids on the PL. In short, they seem to be arguing that Cannabinoid use ought not be thought of as “doping”.

In this article, I argue to the contrary — that Cannabinoids should be retained on the Prohibited List; that its use may be thought of as doping; and that the Spirit of Sport criterion, though vague, is still a defensible criterion for the demarcation of “doping”. To achieve this, I critically discuss the legitimacy of Cannabinoid inclusion in the light of contemporary literature on “enhancement”, and introduce the findings of a recent empirical investigation into anti-doping policy with a sample of international key actors in anti-doping policy.

In the first section, I describe the definition of doping and the current state of policy flux in anti-doping, then I set out the extant and the proposed criteria for a method or substance to be considered doping (i.e., for inclusion on the Prohibited List). I review then one bioethical critique of the Spirit of Sport criterion (Foddy and Savulescu 2010), and a recent challenge by an internationally recognised group of scholars and scientists working in the field of anti-doping (the International Network of Humanistic Doping Research) to remove the criterion. I then included narrative data from key actors on the international scene of anti-doping such as Heads of National Anti-Doping Organisations, Heads of Medicine and Science in Anti-Doping Organisations, and senior members of the World-Anti Doping Agency (WADA), before arguing against their position and for the status quo.

II. What is Doping, and What are the Criteria by Which a Method or Substance May be Considered for the List of Prohibited Methods and Substances?

Following the Ben Johnson scandal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the subsequent Dubin enquiry and the Tour de France scandal in 1998, the IOC established a working group to formulate a robust and independent international body to regulate doping in sport. In consequence, the WADA was set up. Following a UNESCO convention, signed by nearly all nation-states in the world...