Letter: Drugs in sport

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In drawing attention to the widespread use of legal, but potentially harmful, performance-enhancing methods by sportsmen you have highlighted an area that requires wider debate. At present this debate is stifled, as evidenced by the condemnation heaped upon the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Samaranch, when he dared to suggest that the distinction between legal and illegal means of performance enhancement was not clear-cut and should be reviewed.

The use of creatine is not the only example of potentially harmful yet legal forms of assisting sporting performance. Many endurance athletes are encouraged to pursue diets which risk osteoporosis and infertility and the risks of long-term colostrum use are unexamined. Neither are we allowed to question the relative safety of currently illegal performance- enhancement methods. For example, might it be safer to complete a 4,000km cycle race in 22 days at an average speed of nearly 40km an hour (as this year's Tour de France competitors were asked to do) with the assistance of carefully monitored erythropoietin administration?

The distinction between what is safe or harmful, natural or a drug, legal or illegal is not as clear-cut as some would like. The result is sport riddled with hypocrisy and athletes at risk.


Wylam, Northumberland,