A British academic who advises USA Cycling on anti-doping issues says that the blood-boosting agent EPO should be made legal, as should blood transfusions.
Paul Dimeo, who lectures at the University of Stirling, maintains that anti-doping regulations currently in force are outdated, counter-productive and have little effect, reports The Times [£].
The academic, who is chair of the USA Cycling Anti-Doping Committee, advocates the safe use of EPO to help the performance and recovery of athletes and believes that tennis players and cyclists should be permitted to undergo blood transfusions, currently banned other than for medical reasons.
Current regulations set out by the World Anti-doping Agency – which helps fund his research – and the International Olympic Committee have their roots in the 1960s and are out of date, insisted Dr Dimeo, author of A History of Drug Use in Sport: 1876-1976.
He said: “What made sense then is no longer viable, practically or idealistically. We now live in a world of technology, commerce and performance, where drugs could be safely used for recovery and performance if only the rules were relaxed.
“Of course, people will react with dismay. But it is time that we had a proper 21st-century debate on the issue, rather than sticking to what was set in stone almost 60 years ago.”
On the subject of EPO, use of which was rife in the peloton in the late 1990s and early 2000s and for which riders still test positive today – just this week, the Italian Fabio Taborre was handed a four-year ban for it – he maintained it could be used safely.
“There are some studies which state that low doses of EPO improve cardiac function,” he insisted. “A whole generation of cyclists used a lot of EPO and they have survived to tell the tale.
“If we understood the dosages and the timing of dosages then maybe it would be relatively safe. Would an athlete mind taking a small amount of a drug that has been trialled and medically approved?”
He also believes that blood transfusions, administered under medical supervision, could help athletes.
Dr Dimeo also backed the introduction of blood transfusions, which boost oxygen-carrying capacity, saying: “It’s safe, of course, because it happens all the time in hospitals. They would help recovery between the stages of a bike race or rounds of a tennis tournament.
“What is the harm if we know there is a doctor on hand, that everything is clean and sterilised and the blood comes from the right place? People will say it’s cheating, because not everybody can get access to that, but that’s not the same as saying it’s harmful.”
Opponents of relaxing rules surrounding banned substances point out that there is a risk of causing harm to the health of young athletes desperate to progress in their sport, and that even if some practices were made legal there would still be people looking to gain a competitive edge by breaking the rules, such as exceeding any maximum permitted doses.
But Dr Dimeo said that while use of performance enhancing drugs or methods that are currently banned would have to be carefully monitored should their use be permitted, there should be “a middle ground between making a big deal over relatively harmless drugs — and punishing people who have done relatively little wrong — and catching organised, systematic cheats.
“There is a potential for the reconsideration of some drugs and that’s a debate we need to have,” he concluded.
He is not the first academic to call for performance enhancing drugs to be made legal.
In 2013, Oxford University professor Julian Savalescu said that they should be allowed to help fight the organised crime syndicates who encourage such practices.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.