Article from Richard Williams in today's Guardian Sport Blog: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/07/31/it_may_be_wishful_thinking_but.html Is supervised drug-assistance in sport the only way to stop cheats ruining events like the Tour de France? "A friend of mine, holidaying in a remote part of Italy for the past couple of weeks, rented a television for the Tour de France. Last Wednesday night he came on the phone to announce that he had unplugged the set and locked it away in a cupboard. He sounded on the verge of tears and the reason, of course, was the sudden turmoil into which the Tour had been thrown by the disgrace of Alexandr Vinokourov and Michael Rasmussen. Since these were riders my friend had previously admired, and since his emotional investment in bike racing goes back almost half a century, he felt personally betrayed. "They cheated," he said. "I've been following this sport since I was 11 years old and they've ruined it." He is a successful and worldly person. He raced bikes as a youth. Yet somehow this year's revelations had hit him harder than the death of Tom Simpson or the shame of Marco Pantani. And it made me wonder if, in the modern world, sport is still capable of sustaining the burden we ask it to bear. My friend's reaction was in my mind when, on the eve of the Tour's arrival in Paris, I wrote in favour of more stringent dope testing and life bans for those in breach of the regulations. But then a reader wrote to upbraid me for, as he put it, joining the drug-war warriors. "You will find, " he said, "that a war on drugs is as crazy as a war on terror." And in support of his claim he sent me an academic paper advocating another approach altogether. Titled Doctors, Doping and Anti-doping, it is co-authored by two professors from the faculty of medicine at the University of Geneva and a lecturer at the University of Paisley in Scotland. Apart from an unfortunate tendency to overuse such phrases as "ideological constructs" and "normative frameworks", they have a case to make and a provocative way of expressing it. The war on doping, they think, is not only as good as lost but was unjust in the first place. Why try to maintain the fiction of creating a level playing field for athletes whose environmental, economic and genetic backgrounds already create significant differences and render the concept of fair play meaningless? At present, they claim, the system favours those affluent enough to afford the most sophisticated drug doctors. "Dope tests are not effective," they say, "if they lead merely to catching those athletes who do not have the best 'rogue' scientists working for them." Their solution is a radical one. "In the event that doping practices were permitted under medical supervision," they write, "it is possible that equality would be enhanced in so far as it would be based on some system of merit, rather than the undeserved inequalities arising from, say, genetic capacities." And science, they argue, is already so much a part of elite sport, in the form of everything from high-tech swimsuits to Paula Radcliffe's hypobaric bedchamber, that to legitimise its influence in this respect would actually be more sporting than "leaving it all to chance or unequal access to illicit practice". Among the benefits of permitting medically supervised doping, they say, would be the attainment of "a clearer view of what is dangerous and what is not", since the doctors concerned would be operating above board and thereby bound by the ethical principle of "nonmaleficence", the commitment by physicians to their patients' health more familiar to most of us in the form of the Hippocratic oath. And they see such practices taking their place in "a broader context of non-therapeutic use of substances or practices for reasons of human enhancement in general". In other words, the inevitable arrival of genetic engineering. There's more, much more, of that. And, frankly, I don't agree with a word of it. But that may simply be because I and most of my friends are a bunch of old romantics who don't want to see some kind of genetically manipulated equality take over from competition based on natural advantages, whether Miguel Induráin's eight-litre lung capacity or Tyson Gay's fast-twitch muscle fibres. It's worth thinking about, nevertheless, because we've seen from the past week what a mess the old ways can get us into."