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Managing Drugs in Sport, by Jason Mazanov

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The Belgian cigarette brand Boule d’Or sponsored a cycling team in the early 1980s
The Belgian cigarette brand Boule d’Or sponsored a cycling team in the early 1980s

Title: Managing Drugs in Sport
Author: Jason Mazanov
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2017
Pages: 228
Order: Routledge
What it is: A look at how sport should manage its relationships with drug-related sponsors in order to protect its integrity
Strengths: There’s a lot more to drugs than doping – e-cigarettes, supplements, legalised weed – and, as experience with tobacco and alcohol companies has shown, sport offers not just access to key demographics but also a halo effect that makes the promoters of these products look good in the short term while damaging sport in the long term
Weaknesses: Mazanov has written an academic book that I suspect even academics (and especially students) will find tedious, thin on real ideas, and little more than an echo chamber of citations

There’s more to drugs than doping. That much ought be obvious to everyone and yet there are some who treat drug-free and doping-free as interchangeable terms. While one might claim to aspire to doping-free sport – really you shouldn’t, you know it can’t ever happen, it’s not that kind of problem and the best you can do is manage it and minimise the impact of doping on sport – no one in their right mind should ever call for drug-free sport, should ever call for sport to deny legitimate treatments to athletes.

Doping, that’s defined by the World Anti-Doping Code: if it’s not on the list, it’s not doping. Simple as that. Drugs, they’re harder to define. And Managing Drugs in Sport’s author, Jason Mazanov (University of New South Wales, Canberra), doesn’t make much of an effort to define quite what he’s actually talking about. Over the course of the book, the best we get is examples of alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, cannabis, and supplements, on top of doping.

Sport’s relationship with this wider world of drugs, it’s not just about their use or misuse by athletes. It extends to the role played by sport in promoting these products to fans. That sport needs to be aware of this wider relationship is borne out by history: tobacco advertising was once a key revenue stream for many sports until governments took the initiative and did what sports federations were unwilling to do by legislating against it. The role of drinks companies today, that’s being challenged – in some countries (eg France) and some sports (eg cycling) alcohol sponsors are banned. We can see that e-cigarettes and cannabis have the potential to become contentious areas in the near future. Supplements? A backlash of some sort is possible but today seems to be far off.

Sport, therefore, needs to be aware of the potential damage to its integrity that allowing itself to become involved with the promoters of such products brings. This is why reviewing Mazanov’s Managing Drugs in Sport seemed like such a good idea a year ago when I sought a copy of it. It’s especially a good idea today with Team Sky’s transition into Team Ineos bringing to the fore disquiet about the manner in which some sponsors – specifically the UAE and Bahrain, and now Ineos – appear to be using sport in general and cycling in particular as part of a campaign of green-washing.

Not all good ideas, alas, turn out good in the end. Time, then, to let you loose on a bit of Mazanov’s argument, in the form of a single paragraph from the book:

“While sport has had a longer and stronger history with alcohol, it was the relationship with tobacco that entrenched the correlation between sport and the marketing of ‘sin’ products (Crompton, 2014). Sin products, such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling (Davidson, 2003), look to associate themselves with sport to exploit halo effects. The halo effect refers to a psychological process where positive attribution on one dimension generalises to other dimensions (e.g. attractive people are also more intelligent and trustworthy). As a result, associating a sin product with the positive values attributed to a sports property can potentially overcome the socially undesirable product characteristics (McGhee, 2012). Such attributions include associating the positive qualities attributed to a celebrity athlete, or linking the physiologically driven emotional response to sports experiences with a drug (e.g. consuming alcohol while watching a sporting event; Meier, 2011). What is understood to be a sin product in sport appears to be a function of whether a product contradicts ‘sport as health’ discourses (Hanstad & Waddington, 2009; McDaniel, Mason & Kinney, 2004), such as foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) (Crompton, 2014). This is typically framed in terms of how marketing activities (eg advertising, during sports events) increase the likelihood of consumers engaging in discretionary health risk behaviours that contradict medical and public health discourses, including overeating HFSS foods, misusing alcohol and gambling addiction (e.g. Lindsay et al., 2013; Lamont, Hing & Gainsbury, 2011). The classic example of using sport to market sin products is tobacco, both for the use of the halo effect in relation to sport and for contradicting the ‘sport as health’ discourse.”

Let’s try and ignore how badly written that paragraph is, how the author himself appears to be conscious of the state of unconsciousness he’ll have lulled his readers into and so more or less repeats himself at the start and finish of it. We have to ignore it, that para is pretty much par for the course throughout Managing Drugs in Sport. Clarity of thought and clarity of expression, there’s not much room for them here.

Of bigger concern to me is that I count nine different citations in that one paragraph for papers, articles of whatevers from other academics. Mazanov, he chucks citations at you with gay abandon, sometimes even citing himself. This is a major issue with Managing Drugs in Sport: it’s little more than an echo chamber of ideas, repeating without question what others have said before, even as it touts itself as “the first book to offer a complete framework for a drugs management strategy for sport”.

Mazanov’s concern over the halo effect is that, as they did with tobacco and as some are today doing with alcohol, governments will step in and legislate against such sponsor relationships. His solution? Using e-cigarettes as an example, he says that “sport needs to ensure that e-cigarettes are part of a diverse portfolio of sponsorship and advertising across sin and non-sin product categories.”

Green-washing and the halo effect, and how to deal with these phenomena, this really isn’t Mazanov’s concern here. His real concern here is to be another academic having another moan about how anti-doping is broken and in serious need of fixing. That anti-doping is the way sport currently deals with one subset of the drugs world, that for Mazanov is enough to claim it therefore offers a framework for how to manage the wider world of drugs. And that gives him his way into the popular and profitable pastime of criticising anti-doping and offering his solutions.

As regards anti-doping, Mazanov follows the academic orthodoxy that it was invented by the IOC and was a way for them to manage the difference between amateur sport (their domain) and professional sport. It was all about protecting the integrity of a class-divided world of sport.

“Anti-doping was implemented on the belief drugs were a threat to the integrity of that which made sport intrinsically valuable. The convictions associated with those beliefs led to the creation of a policy juggernaut and an administrative dreadnaught.”

If you know the history of anti-doping within cycling, this is a belief system you tend to question. But, Mazanov, he has a list of supporting citations as long as your arm, so why go there? Let’s just run with his ideas and see where they take us. One of the places, unsurprisingly (given his solution to the halo effect problem), is money:

“An unintended consequence of anti-doping is the focus on a very narrow version of drug control at the expense of broader drug control. That is, the focus on doping risks detracts from the capacity to respond to integrity concerns arising from other drugs. The resourcing constraints associated with implementing anti-doping means under-resourcing to address other drugs-related integrity threats; for example, being forced to invest in doping [sic] leaves sports programmes vulnerable to integrity threats from engagement with the e-cigarette, alcohol and supplements industries. This resourcing problem is only going to get worse as the costs of anti-doping compliance increase over time. Even though anti-doping may protect the integrity of sport from threats associated with doping, it has the capacity to make the integrity of sport vulnerable to threats from other drugs.”

With regard to these alleged resourcing constraints – which, significantly, come free of citations buttressing them – Mazanov appears to think that WADA’s funding is the funding of anti-doping (a common error among academics writing about doping), when the reality is that anti-doping is actually funded by the sports federations and National Anti-Doping Organisations.

Were Mazanov to have considered this, he might have noticed how, for instance, cycling funds its anti-doping measures. In the last publicly available report from the CADF, covering 2017, the approximately €6.4 million cost of anti-doping (CHF 7.5m) was funded primarily by the race organisers, riders, and teams, with the UCI chipping in just 14% of the overall cost, or less than €1m. Is that €1m really more likely to have been spent questioning whether a team like Floyd’s Pro Cycling – a team sponsored by a retailer of cannabis-based products – is good for the sport’s image?

The resourcing issue, it really is a lot more complex that Mazanov allows it to be. As for whether the imagined resourcing problem is only going to get worse over time as the cost of anti-doping compliance increases, in general this isn’t how anti-doping is actually working in reality and it’s certainly not evidenced in cycling’s anti-doping spend over the course of the last decade.

In offering solutions to the perceived problems of anti-doping – anti-doping has many problems, let’s be clear, some of them are real, some of them are imagined – Mazanov gets further and further away from the issue of how sport should protect its integrity by proactively managing its relationships with those seeking the cover of its halo effect. One suggestion for what a reworked anti-doping system might look like illustrates how out of touch with reality Mazanov is:

“[Doping] can be defined as exceeding evidence-based safety limits. Where an athlete crosses the threshold they are deemed to be unfit to compete. These limits can be liberal or conservative.”

Does that sound familiar to you? It ought to. It was the basis for cycling’s haematocrit test, the one that even those who came up with agreed didn’t just allow you to dope up to a certain limit, but effectively coerced you to dope to that limit and beyond. The one that did more harm to the sport than it did good, especially given it couldn’t really be policed at the set levels and so still allowed doping in excess of the ‘safe’ limit.

But Mazanov, he’s on solid ground here, he’s got a citation for this suggestion: it was put forward by the philosophy professor Julian Savulescu (University of Oxford). For those unfamiliar with the name, he used to be one of the go-to guys in the noughties when you had a new doping scandal and wanted a contrarian take that said legalise doping. There was a time when being deliberately provocative was necessary, WADA was just opening its doors and many in the sport were in complete denial about the doping problem. Responding to scandals with scandalous suggestions, it served a purpose, at the time. The article Mazanov is citing, it’s titled ‘Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport’ and appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2004, after the Cofidis affaire turned David Millar into an anti-doping saint.

A knee-jerk response designed to be provocatively contrarian at the time and more than a decade later it’s still being cited as if it were a sensible solution? In the echo chamber of academia the ability to cite is of greater importance than what is right. And the need to publish is greater than the need to have something useful to say.

The managing of drugs in sport – the considerations given to how some sponsors are only in it for the halo effect and risk causing long-term damage for a short-term gain – is important. Managing Drugs in Sport is not.

Managing Drugs in Sport, by Jason Mazanov, is published by Routledge
Managing Drugs in Sport, by Jason Mazanov, is published by Routledge