Cheating, better doping tests and NBA problems

Plagiarism in the IOC

This morning, we start with some bizarre news about South Korea’s IOC Member Moon Dae-sung and his unscrupulous actions. Dae-sung, a gold medalist in taekwondo at Athens 2004, was accused of “plagiarising much of his doctorate thesis at Kookmin University”  back in April 2012. The IOC Ethics Commission tried to launch an investigation on the matter by repeatedly inquiring of the University regarding the plagiarism. The IOC failed to retrieve any reply. Having nothing left to do, the IOC closed the investigation at the end of 2013, but kept the file in case “future developments” occurred. Dae-sung’s plagiarism was recently confirmed at the end of last week when the University Committee announced that he was guilty. The IOC Ethics Commission has not officially (or unofficially) announced a reopening of Dae-sung’s case. Since it’s possible that the University is ready to answer questions the IOC may ask, it is likely the IOC will reopen the case.

Revolutionary Scientific Research in Doping Tests

It is not new that doping is a huge problem in sports, particularly in the United States. Since the Armstrong scandal, doping agencies are more determined than ever to come up with a test that surpasses today’s inadequate ones. The article notes the Lance Armstrong scandal as the biggest one, and it explains how Armstrong and his team were able to take illegal drugs without the tests detecting the substances. There are two major weaknesses in today’s blood tests. First, drug tests can only detect a certain amount of a foreign substance within an athlete’s body. By taking small amounts of drugs, the drugs would leave the system before testers could detect what was in them. Second, it is extraordinarily difficult for current tests to “detect a doping product that blends into the body.” Armstrong and his team utilized both of these techniques to use drugs and avoid detection.

However, scientists in Yannis Pitsiladis’ lab housed in Scotland believe they are growing closer this goal in their ability to detect even the smallest trace of drugs within an athlete’s body. Much of the focus for current testing has been on locating drugs within the body – a method that was proven inept. Pitsiladis has worked to change the test to figure out what substances are by “[gathering] evidence from the doper’s own body.” .

Pitsiladis has a strong background in genetics – an area in which he believes is the key to testing athletes trying to scam the system. His experiment initially began with DNA, but the results were inconclusive. When he started to examine RNA, he discovered that examining RNA tracks changes in blood cell count. The results were possible to see even after four weeks of testing athletes who were doping. Protein patterns were also seen in experiments as a way to determine whether an increase in EPO occurred, as abnormalities in the blood were detectable. Unfortunately, testing of this nature is a long way from entering the current testing system. One of the big problems is the inability to distinguish between artificial verses natural increases in red blood cells. Suppose an athlete trains at a high altitude for a period of time. High altitude elevations naturally increase people’s EPO, so an athlete training at such an altitude would lead to the production of more red blood cells. If Pitsiladis’ new test cannot distinguish between which ones are natural and which ones are artificial, then there’s a huge “false positive” test that would lead to incalculable damage. It’s a work in progress, but the article ends on an optimistic note. The hope is that, with more research and time, scientists will develop the equivalency of a “fingerprint” test that athletes cannot escape.

NBA: Beating Doping Isn’t Hard

In keeping with the doping theme of the previous article, we look at the NBA and how upset some authorities are about NBA athletes’ apparent ability to “beat” the drug test. In particular, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) head Travis Tygart criticized the “six urine tests a year” methodology, which leaves the door wide open for athletes to abuse drugs. ESPN quoted Tygart when he said, “If there’s no chance of getting caught, and you’re overly competitive, you’re going to do anything possible to win. That includes using these dangerous drugs because they will give you a performance-enhancing benefit.” In essence, if there’s an advantage to cheat with a low risk of being caught by a drug test, athletes will take that route. Rich Buchanan, NBA’s general counsel, defended the system by claiming that their program is “as good as any other in pro sports.”

Tygart is unconvinced, and his hesitance explains why is pushing for WADA to overtake the current NBA’s testing policies. The NBA wants to remain self-regulatory. It is working to avoid a WADA-governed testing program by trying to enhance its own testing program by incorporating “blood testing for human growth hormone and biological passport testing.” It is running into some problems, though. Part of the problem is the lack of a head person to run the testing program – a spot that remains open. The league’s alleged saving grace is that the use of performance enhancing-drugs (PEDs) is not a widespread problem in the NBA, or you’d hear about it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that “there are great journalists out there like [Gladwell], somebody would be out there and would’ve found somebody who’s willing to talk about it. We’re fortunate in the NBA that there is a cultural view that those types of drugs are not helpful to core performance.” Let’s hope for their sake this comment doesn’t become the problem the Kenyans are facing now.

There’s an interesting article on how the Olympics, college football, and the NBA can be “fixed.” Here’s a quick snapshot of what the author suggests. The Olympics should stay in the same spot every four years (cuts down on political bidding, costs and ruining host countries such as Greece). As much as I love the Olympics, a rotating site is only the tip of the iceberg of issues wrong with it, but I’m not getting into that here. Moving on, college football can be fixed by stricter limits on practice (forces coaches to become more creative) and honesty (the hurry-up offense leading to more injuries is a lie – more play doesn’t necessarily mean more injuries). NBA is fixed (which I don’t agree with) by letting an eligible athlete going to the NBA faster. I should point out that the author of the article does not appear to attempt to solve every single issue with each respective sport / entity, but rather point out obvious problems that could be fixed relatively quickly.

The Washington Post put out an article that shows the Oscar Pistorius trial as South Africa’s “O.J. Simpson” case. And in interesting news, a blind South African is going to run the Antarctica Marathon on March 9. If he completes it, Hein Wagner will be the first blind man in history to achieve this feat. Some of his training occurred in a temperature-controlled room…at -20 degrees Celsius.

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