Is pro sport too soft on doping?

Over 25 years ago, Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids at the Olympics in Seoul, Korea. He was subsequently sanctioned and prohibited from involvement in sport for four years. I think it is fair to say that the sport community, the government and the Canadian public turned against Ben. He was once a hero in sport and overnight he became a villain. This sent a powerful message to all athletes in all sports that there was no place for doping in sport. If you dope, you were out.

Contrast this with Major League Baseball (MLB) player Nelson Cruz’s doping violation last year. Cruz was implicated in the Biogenesis doping scandal and slapped with a 50-game suspension by MLB under their anti-doping rules. Recently, Cruz was confirmed as a starter in this year’s MLB All-Star Game. He was voted into this starting position by the MLB fans. After his doping violation, it would appear that Nelson Cruz went from hero to all-star.

These two situations raise some interesting questions. Have we become soft on doping? Were we too hard on Ben? Were we too soft on Nelson? What is the appropriate sanction in sport for a doping violation? What is the message we are sending to athletes? What does this say about the public’s concern about doping in MLB?

We know that as the rewards for success in sport increase (i.e., fame and fortune), so too does the temptation to dope. Today, we have unprecedented amounts of money and notoriety being offered to athletes for playing the games they love. The temptation and pressure to dope has never been greater. Access to doping substances has never been easier, and the need to address doping in sport has never been more important and acute.

If we truly want doping out of sport, then sport must adopt a common front when it comes to the fight against doping. All sports, in all leagues, in all countries must be on the same page if we want to turn back the threat of doping and the harm it causes. Fortunately, such a common front already exists. It is the World Anti-Doping Code. The Code has been adopted by over 70 international sport governing bodies and 200 countries around the world. Unfortunately, MLB is one of the sports leagues that has not seen their way clear to adopting the Code.

The result when professional leagues like MLB choose not to adopt the World Anti-Doping Code, is that they seriously undermine the effectiveness of the global fight against doping in all sports.