Editor’s Note: This book excerpt is used with permission of VeloPress from Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sports by Mark Johnson. In Spitting in the Soup, Johnson explores how the deals made behind closed doors keep drugs in sports. Johnson unwinds the doping culture from the early days, when pills meant progress, and uncovers the complex relationships that underlie elite sports culture. Spitting in the Soup offers a bitingly honest, clear-eyed look at why that’s so, and what it will take to kick pills out of the locker room once and for all. Learn more at www.spittinginthesoup.com and www.velopress.com.
While few within organized sports expressed concern about the use of performance-enhancing drugs until the 1960s, there was some early unease. A December 1, 1895, New York Times editorial, “The Use of Stimulants by Athletes: Drugs Designed for This Purpose Not Favored,” took drug manufacturers to task for marketing their products to athletes. Appealing to notions of athletic purity, the piece argued that while “the alert mind of the modern drug manufacturer” had taken note of the growing popularity of sports like cycling and football, “all true athletes would disdain any such injurious and adventitious aids.” The Times opinion writer disapproved of performance-enhancingdrugs on two grounds: one, they could be injurious to health; and two, they gave athletes an advantage “true” sportsmen would frown upon. Perhaps influenced by the same aristocratic, class-preserving “trueness” Coubertin admired, the editorial concluded that innocent amateurs should stay away from the pros’ methods because drugs are somehow inherently wrong: “The general effect of drug taking, and especially of the use of drugs belonging to the caffeine and cocaine class, is distinctly bad. We believe that the medical profession ought seriously to warn those with whom they come in contact professionally against the use of such things.”
In 1928, 33 years after the Times warned readers of the undefined dangers of adventitious substances, the first whisper of anti-doping made its way into an official sporting regulation when an anti-drug statement appeared in the regulations of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF). Founded in 1912 by Sigfrid Edström, a Swedish industrialist who made his fortune in tramlines and electric motor manufacturing, the IAAF was born the same year that Edström’s influence helped bring the Olympics to Stockholm. A talented runner in his youth, Edström’s wealth and starched-shirted belief in amateurism helped him become an IOC member in 1920 and IOC president in 1942.
Edström clamped down on amateurs who collected race appearance fees. During its annual convention in 1928, the IAAF executive council passed strict rules outlawing athlete compensation. At the same time, the IAAF wrote what may be the sport’s first anti-drug regulation. Roughly a quarter century after drugs were prohibited in horse racing, the rule defined doping as “the use of any stimulant not normally employed to increase the power of action in athletic competition above the average.”1 As vague as it was obscure, the new IAAF regulation targeted those who administered drugs, not athletes. Its passing stirred barely a ripple of press coverage, although a July 28, 1928, article on the opening of the Amsterdam Olympic Games in the New York Times did briefly mention the new doping ban. A sentence in the piece explained that a recent IAAF congress had debated a “proposal to suspend from amateur athletics any person involved in giving competitors ‘drugs or stimulants internally by hypodermic or other methods.’”2
This information, however, was but one sentence buried in a long piece on an ongoing controversy over whether University of Southern California track star Charley Paddock would be allowed to compete in Amsterdam. Paddock had angered the high priests of amateurism by insisting that his work as a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times and as a Hollywood actor did not violate Olympic values. As Paddock saw it, the critical difference that preserved amateur status was that he was paid to write about sports but received no compensation for the act of playing in sports. In the eyes of the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the writing earnings polluted Paddock’s amateur purity and threatened the social bulwark separating the working pro from the sportsman of leisure. As historians John Gleaves and Matthew Llewellyn explain in a 2013 study of this early IAAF drug rule, amateurs were expected to maintain an ideal: “The Olympic amateur played the game for the game’s sake, disavowing gambling and professionalism, and competed in a composed dignified manner fitting of a ‘gentleman.’” By working in sports-related roles, Paddock failed his obligation to uphold these patrician standards.3
The New York Times mentioned the new doping regulation to put a fine point on its larger exploration of amateurism, specifically the fear that professional sporting practices—and lower-class habits—were infiltrating amateur games. For Olympic organizations, the incursion of the trappings of professionalism into amateur sports—whether by making money commenting on sports or using professional sports medicine practices—was scandalous. At least on paper, the new IAAF rule seemed to come down hard on the trainers and doctors who administered performance-enhancing drugs because they were symptomatic of the professional practices that amateur governing bodies wanted to keep out of their sports. Paddock’s hassles with the IAAF and AAU made a public display of efforts to wall off amateur sports from the “corrupting” influence of money and professional drug practices. As Gleaves and Llewellyn write, for those worried about protecting upper-class ease through amateur sports, the doping habits of working-class cyclists, boxers, and runners “only served to reinforce their belief that their place in the social order was well deserved.”4 Paddock’s work caused alarm because it was close to his actual sport and thus threatened to puncture the wall separating doped pros from chivalric and pure amateurs.*
*Bribery Covers Up Doping Positives
While 1928 image management meant keeping pros and their ways out, in the early 2000s, damage control took the form of massive bribes to let embarrassingly doped podium placers off the hook. In 2015, it came to light that IAAF officials hid systematic athlete doping in Russia. A January 2016 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report revealed that Russian runner and 2010 London Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova paid €450,000 to IAAF officials to keep a 2011 suspicious blood test result under wraps and preserve her place in the 2012 London Olympics. The same report explained that out of 7,177 EPO tests performed on IAAF athletes between 2001 and 2009, nearly 9 percent returned atypical blood samples. Three hundred and nine of those suspicious samples came from medal winners, yet only 67 were sanctioned. While an atypical blood sample does not automatically equate to doping, 88 years after the IAAF first took steps to keep professionals’ doping from tainting its amateur sheen, IAAF officials still seemed set on protecting their public image. A separate November 2015 WADA report concluded that IAAF corruption was pervasive and that drug maleficence in its Russian member federation “was an embedded and institutionalized process designed to secure winning at any cost.” As a result of the scandal, IAAF sponsor Adidas severed its sponsorship relationship with the IAAF with four years remaining on its 11-year contract. See “The Independent Commission Report #1,” WADA, November 9, 2015; “The Independent Commission Report #2,” WADA, January 14, 2016.