You’re lucky when you’re an Olympic sporter in a well-respected discipline like fencing. Once a cyclist is suspected of doping – and that’s before having any positive test – he’s out of the race and probably out of his team as well, as happened last year with the leader in the Tour the France, the Dane Michael Rasmussen. He was out of the Tour and kicked from his Rabobank team because he had lied about his whereabouts at one point. There wasn’t even a drug test involved.
Top Italian fencing champion Andrea Baldini has failed a doping test and the country is up in arms about it. “Fencing is a sport of skill in which using your head is more important than any physical ability, so why would one need doping?”, asks four time Olympic gold medallist Valentina Vezzali, who ads for good measure that she has known Baldini “since he was a boy” in an article entitled “Doping doesn’t live here”.
In true Italian style a conspiracy theory has surfaced in which the second hopeful of the Italian fencing community, Andrea Cassarà, has put something in Baldinis drink. Of course, there is no proof of that and there probably never will be. But it’s a remarkable twist when compared to all those claims about the supposed cleanliness of this sport. Something is apparently rotten in the fencing community so Vezzali can talk all she wants – the cat is out of the bag.
Fact is that there’s doping even in chess, and fact is also that in 1987, French Olympic fencing champion Jean-Francois Lamour was tested positive for caffeine. Performance enhancing substances can be used for any human performance – the idea that doping can only enhance physical strength is an old wives’ tale and Vezzali is spreading it in the hope to save the reputation of her sports. She will probably succeed, too, for people want to believe that their heroes are ‘clean’. And amidst the ever-increasing amount of doping scandals sports organizations are keen to present their particular disciplin as a ‘pure’ sports, of course.
Sadly, I don’t think there are clean sports anymore. Even amateurs use performance enhancers in the quest to win and perhaps be noticed by professional teams or organizations. The only question remaining is whether we must continue the cat-and-mouse game of inventing new drugs and inventing ways to detect them, or that we simply must accept the fact that people use performance enhancers in order to win. Bearing in mind the death of more than a few great sportsmen linked to (former) doping use, I say we should continue the fight.