Head to head: A winning formula

Is there a case for performance-boosting drugs in sport? Yes, says cycling expert James Waddington. No, says Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe
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Indy Lifestyle Online

"The debate falls into the same category as recreational drugs. From the Prime Minister down we are forbidden to discuss such things. Everybody just goes around in a state of ignorance without the requisite research or education. The great danger at the moment is not to top professionals - who are, on the whole, well looked after - but kids going into cycle races who might feel it is OK to take a bit of EPO [Erythropoietin, which increases oxygen absorption in the blood] with no idea what it is. That's why I feel the high moral tone everyone takes is not actually helping anyone.

As for the argument it ruins sport, that is totally unrealistic. Do we want to go back to the Olympic ideal as represented in Chariots of Fire? No. People don't want sport to grind on at the same level. Technology in every sense, in training and nutrition, has come a long way since then and using it makes sense. Flo Jo [Seoul Olympics gold medalist Florence Griffiths-Joyner, pictured, who died last month] was a tremendous success. She was obviously worth a hundred other runners.

Look at cycling. For top-class professionals, it is a sport of immense attrition. What you're doing in one long stage in the Pyrenees is like riding from Brussels to Paris and climbing the height equivalent of a small Himalaya. It is devastating on the human body and the necessity for restoring and resuscitating the body is looked at very carefully. Participants would be the first not to want to take things which are going to cause their joints to seize up or their livers to fail. These people do not want to die young and can see the implications of what they are taking."

James Waddington's novel about drug use in cycling, `Bad to the Bone', is published by Dedalus (pounds 7.99, paperback)


"I was the first athlete to address the International Olympic Committee in 1981 when I called for the life ban of competitors that used drugs. Then I joined the Sports Council and as vice-chairman set up the out-of-competition testing that is now common. Anyone eligible for either junior or senior competition in Britain can be tested at any time.

My main argument for maintaining a ban on performance-enhancing drugs in sport is that free, open and pure competition remains an essential social value. We either have sports people who are faster, fitter and stronger than the rest, by natural means and with recourse only to their natural biology and physiology and psychology, or we go down the road where success lies in the hands of chemists. Fairness - a level playing field - is what most people expect who go into an athletics stadium or sporting arena. I also think if you want sport to play the central role we want it to play in society and hold its pre-eminence in educational institutions, it's not unreasonable for people to see it is held up for scrutiny. We also know - I know - having spoken to coaches from all over the globe, we are getting more than a casual correlation between some of the illnesses seen in sports and some of the methods being used to improve performances.

Using drugs is like climbing the wall of the football ground without paying. You've got to pay your dues and that means hard work. Having entered the moral maze and said all that, you still can't get away from one simple fact - using drugs is bloody cheating."

Sebastian Coe, OBE and ex-Conservative MP, was an Olympic gold medalist twice at the 1500 metres

Interviews by Nick Harris