Drugs in sport, liberalism and others

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Role of performance-enhancing drugs in international sport

Role of performance-enhancing drugs in international sport

Sir: A ban on performance-enhancing drugs in professional and international sport can never be wholly enforced (report and editorial, 24 July) as drug designers will inevitably always be one step ahead of the testers. Furthermore, the common arguments in favour of the imposition of a ban are often at odds with current legal (and encouraged) practices in elite-level sport and the climate in which they take place.

Performance-enhancing drugs in sport are certainly a potential danger to the physical well being of athletes who choose to use them, but so too are the rigorous training programmes which athletes - including children - pursue on a day to day basis, often with the assistance of "legal" pain killing drugs to ease the pain and injury accumulated from such training.

Sport is by no means a level playing field, and in this sense how can drug use alone represent a serious danger to the competitive element of many sports? How can anyone contest that international sport is a level playing field when, for example, a British sprinter supported by private and state sponsors and with access to state of the art facilities comes up against a sprinter from a war ravaged or developing nation, who has received comparatively less or no state and private sponsorship whilst making do with limited and basic facilities? Surely the imbalance between athletes of first and third world countries eclipses that which may stand between "clean" and "doped" athletes.

Sanctions against drug-taking athletes can have little effect when opponents of drug-taking often demand athletes push themselves to new physical limits, usually by whatever means necessary. If a ban were ever to work it must be used in conjunction with a comprehensive challenge to the values of sport in order to protect athletes from the perils of an uncritical acceptance of all its norms, which in turn often lead to a ruthless and relentless quest for perfection.

Drug use is just one facet of this quest.

Loughborough University, Leicestershire

Liberal consensus of the Sixties unravelled

Sir: Robin Cook expresses eloquently his disagreement with Tony Blair's use of the term "liberal" as pejorative (Opinion, 23 July) while another of your correspondents describes Blair as a "compassionate Thatcherite" (Steve Richards, Opinion, 22 July).

It became clear soon after I voted for New Labour in 1997 that I had been duped by a masterful political charade. When Mr Blair uses "liberal" as a term of abuse, it is not pandering to the Daily Mail reader. Mr Blair is expressing his political views: it is his occasional - increasingly rare - expressions of support for liberal democracy, public service or the economic and political development of Europe which are the aberration. When he dressed himself in Margaret Thatcher's order to rejoice, Mr Blair deliberately snubbed and insulted all of us who were fooled by his pretence that Labour would reform UK political life and restore the values of society and service.

The only hope for those of us so terribly conned in 1997 is to cling to the word "hubris", and to vote Liberal Democrat at the next election.

Royston, Hertfordshire

Sir: How odd that Daoud Fakhri appears to see a link between the social reforms of the 1960s and loutishness (letter, 24 July). The three great social reforms from that era which come to mind are decriminalisation of male homosexuality, legalisation of abortion and changes in the divorce law.

The motivation behind decriminalising male homosexuality was to remove the threat of blackmail, a jail sentence and a guilt ridden double life; that behind the legalisation of abortion was to remove the need for women to place themselves in the hands of back-street abortionists with all the risks that entailed; while changes in divorce law were motivated by a desire to get rid of the dishonesty and deception in which couples were expected to indulge if they wanted to end their marriage when they realised they had made a mistake.

In each case the motivation arose from a genuine desire to improve the well-being and happiness of others. That seems to me entirely honourable and well worth defending against the attacks of Mr Blair and Mr Fakhri. Don't blame the 1960s for our present day problems. Blame our present day politicians and opinion formers.

Rochdale, Lancashire

Sir: Contrary to Daoud Fakhri I don't believe for a minute Tony Blair is right in his criticism that the 1960s liberal consensus created today's social problems. It is far too simple, in fact very 1980s, just to blame the generation before you for the mess you left behind. A less selfish approach would be to recognise that the 1960s culture itself was a reaction on the dark 1950s. The 1960s generation doesn't bear more responsibility than the 1980s generation for poor public services and a growing gap between the rich and poor.

If we apply the "we were only children of our time" approach correctly we should also recognise that the 1950s were a reaction to the world wars; that the wars had everything to do with nationalism and frustrated Germans and hence with imperialism and industrialisation. Via Descartes, Newton and the Middle Ages we soon have to conclude that it all started with a man in a garden eating an apple which he did not want to share.

Maybe Tony Blair should just take responsibility for his policies.


Sir: Tony Blair's inability to get to grips with crime is hardly surprising given his recent futile analysis. His pronouncements about discipline are part of the usual fare from politicians who fully endorse a criminal system and then expect its victims to behave differently. The neo-liberal dream ensures that food, water, housing, employment and peace are deemed to be unessential unless they help with the priority of maximising profits.

If Tony Blair wishes to get tough on crime he should crack down on neo-liberalism and the pervading culture of selfishness it fosters. The fact that he encourages the unaccountable anarchy of the market suggests he is neither serious nor concerned about crime or its causes.

Chair, Cardiff Branch of the Communist Party of Britain
Nantgarw, Cardiff

Palestinian suffering

Sir: Jonathan Smilansky (letter, 22 July) is wrong when he says that the Palestinian people continue to suffer as a result of lack of investment in basic services. It is true that the Palestinian people are suffering, but their suffering is as a direct result of the Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing, the daily demolition of Palestinian houses, and the denial of their basic human rights to live in peace and security.

I find it difficult to understand that the world fails to see the injustice of a situation where the French are invited to come and settle in Israel, whereas the refugees from Israel are denied the right to return to their own homes.

Dudley, West Midlands

Sir: Jonathan Smilansky is wrong to say that Yasser Arafat introduced suicide bombing to the Middle East. The first such bombing that I know of in the Middle East was by Hizbollah against American troops, killing 241, in 1983. Hamas, not under Arafat's control, carried out the first Palestinian suicide bombing in 1994 after an American Zionist, Dr Baruch Goldstein, carried out a suicidal attack on a mosque in Hebron killing 29 Palestinians.

Dagenham, Essex

Gridlock and jams

Sir: The whole debate on road pricing (report, 21 July) gives a pretence of activity and radicalism, whilst allowing this generation of ministers to avoid any of the hard choices.

Despite the success of congestion charging in London, the Government is suggesting that we wait at least another seven years before road pricing becomes a national policy. In the meantime they have dumped all targets for walking, cycling and traffic reduction and returned us to the early 1990s, when the Conservative government embarked upon a futile, multibillion-pound attempt to build their way out of congestion. That period ended with road protesters, Swampy and the fuel-tax escalator (ironically a successful Tory policy which the present Government decided to drop out of pure cowardice).

With traffic due to grow by 20 to 25 per cent by 2010, the Government is effectively saying that gridlock today and jams tomorrow is the mess we have to live with and a future generation of braver and greener politicians will have to sort it out.

Green Party member of the London Assembly
City Hall
London SE1

Pregnancy at work

Sir: If Ukip's MEPs think that no one with any brain should employ a woman of childbearing age (report, 21 July), it will be interesting to watch who they employ in their new offices.

As an MEP I have just experienced two of my key staff, one in Belgium the other in the UK, taking maternity leave and having their first children. MEPs are small businesses and as employers have to negotiate social security and employment legislation in at least two countries (this is not done for us by the Parliament authorities). I am proud that both employees have had their maternity leave and returned to work, having brought the joy of a first child to their respective families - all with a minimum of disruption to the work of my office. This is how it should be.

I challenge the Ukip MEPs to say how they would deal with a similar scenario. Or would their response be just blind prejudice?

Liberal Democrat, Yorkshire and the Humber

Gay friends

Sir: Anne Atkins' welcome for the "humane" (partial) decriminalisation of homosexual sexual relations in the 1960s (Home News, 20 July) comes through bitterly clenched teeth.

Would she care to identify the oft-cited but so far mysteriously un-named "gay friend" she feels to be such a useful alibi for her condescending views? We'd be delighted to engage in direct dialogue with him rather than by proxy. For she, and apparently he, now see lesbian and gay people people as "proselytising" the same heterosexual community which not so long ago treated them - and him - as criminals.

Stand up and come out all you gay friends of Anne Atkins! Surely you are not ashamed?

General Secretary, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
London E2

Lost rivers

Sir: Your environment editor, Michael McCarthy, is inaccurate in referring to the River Wandle as "one of [London's] largely forgotten rivers such as the Fleet, the Walbrook and the Tyburn" ("Trout caught in London again after river is transformed", 20 July).

These rivers, like the others which run from north to south into the Thames between the Lea and the Brent, are not visible above ground, having been culverted centuries ago, and are remembered largely in street names. Although there are some underground rivers south of the Thames, such as the Effra and the Falcon, most of the rivers that flow from south to north towards the Thames - Quaggy, Ravensbourne, Pool, Wandle, Beverley Brook - are fully visible for most of their courses, and can be traced though the suburbs, parks and sports fields of south London.

For more details, those interested can turn to Nicholas Barton's The Lost Rivers of London.


Mexican presidency

Sir: You report that opponents of the Mexican President Vicente Fox "have accused him of using the 1971 'Corpus Christi massacre' to gain political traction ahead of his 2006 re-election campaign" (24 July). This could be true only if those opponents were ignorant about the Mexican political system. The president serves one six-year term, known as the sexenio, and cannot stand for re-election.

Division of International Studies
Mexico City

Torture in Guinea

Sir: If Adam Koui and Youssouff Sidibe were both tortured in Guinea (report, 24 July), why are they being detained awaiting removal? Is this yet another failure of this government to honour its obligations under the Geneva Convention? Why are they not being given the protection to which they are entitled?

Denmead, Hampshire

Multicultural lawyers

Sir: It was interesting to note the published list of those called to the Bar (Gazette, 23 July). Taking the Lincoln's Inn intake of some 217 new barristers as a representative sample, more than half of the year's successes have Asian, Middle Eastern or otherwise non-Anglo Saxon names. As an indication of multicultural integration and achievement, this takes some beating - whatever one's view of lawyers.

Brentford, Middlesex

A safer world?

Sir: If Tony Blair truly believes removing Saddam has made the world "a better and safer place", why does he now feel the need to spend £8m on telling the British public what to do in the event of a terror attack?

Whitton, Middlesex

Mandelson in Europe

Sir: As a fellow Ukip candidate in the European elections I confess to being nervous at the controversial way Geoffrey Bloom launched the party's much-needed campaign against political correctness. But then I heard Peter Mandelson had been appointed as Britain's European Commissioner. It put life back into perspective.