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Oxford University professor calls for performance-enhancing drugs to be legalised

Prohibition leads to organised crime, says Julian Savulescu

An Oxford University professor has said that we must legalise performance enhancing drugs in order to prevent the prevalence of organised crime around doping.

Julian Savulescu, originally from Australia, says that it's an impossible task to completely ban all substances, and that it puts riders' health at risk. Instead, he says, the focus should be on reducing the harm to the riders.

''The goal at the moment is to pick up anything that has a performance-enhancing effect, no matter how small the amount. That's obviously an unachievable task,'' Savulescu told Fairfax Media. ''You can't pick up a molecule of testosterone or a single molecule of growth hormone, yet that is what they're trying to do. Instead, the goalposts should be shifted to harm reduction, where you pick up unsafe amounts or unsafe practices.

''As soon as people hear 'drugs' they think heroin and people dead in the streets. But caffeine is an artificial [performance-enhancing] substance while testosterone and growth hormone are naturally produced by the body. The way forward is to look at that bandwidth more critically and see what things are dangerous, in what amounts and do we really want to ban something.

''At the moment, as soon as something is seen to be performance-enhancing it's on the banned list. It's a nonsense.''

Savulescu, who edits the Journal of Medical Ethics, says that two decades of failure around the Tour de France proves his point.

''People have died from cycling accidents from being hit by cars - and Lance Armstrong is as fit as a trout,'' he said. ''The only time cyclists have died is through recreational drug use and through unsafe blood practices like using dodgy blood that's not properly stored, or using somebody else's blood.

''Lance Armstrong passed 200 doping tests yet he has been on a cocktail of doping substances. He's taking them in amounts that were enhancing his performances without affecting his health.

''The only thing that has ruined cycling over the past 15 years is people, left right and centre, having their medals removed and then somebody else [is] implicated in cheating. We need more-enforceable laws.''

Savulescu says that he knows his is not the current thinking, as world sports agencies vy for a 'fresh start' and an end to doping at all.

''What I'm saying isn't going to be accepted at the current time. But there will be another scandal and then another … Eventually soccer will be shown to be rife with doping and there will be a huge push from European authorities.

''At the moment we're like a blinkered horse on the way to the knackery. It's going to get there!

''We need to take off the blinkers and think a little more broadly about the issue.''

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