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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: Grading cheating proves tiring

    What constitutes cheating in competitive athletics? At what point should a performance-enhancing substance or training technique be banned from use?

    Intuition would suggest that there exist simple, straightforward answers to these questions. When UA athletes and local coaches were asked to define cheating, they each responded with a confident answer:

    “To me, cheating is when a person uses a substance that is not available to all athletes, giving them an unfair advantage,” said pre-business sophomore Casey Bowman, an infielder for the UA baseball team.

    Andy Page, girls’ basketball coach at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, said something similar.

    “Intentionally breaking a known set of rules to gain an advantage is cheating,” Page said. “It doesn’t matter if the rules are logical or not, if they are broken to help an individual or a group get an edge on their competition, it is cheating.”

    UA softball player Lauren Young agreed with cheating being about gaining an advantage.

    “If you know what you’re doing and know the consequences it will have on your health, and you believe that it will give you some kind of advantage over someone, I believe it’s cheating,” Young said.

    Groups like the World Anti-Doping Agency have tried to combat these subtly different definitions by providing athletic organizations with precise criteria for judging whether a specific substance should be allowed.

    The agency’s recently released 2015 World Anti-Doping Code defines an illegal substance as one that “has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance,” “represents an actual or potential health risk” or “violates the spirit of the sport.”

    Sometimes, peoples’ innate moral compasses seem to know exactly when an athlete has violated one of these principles. A Major League Baseball player who uses human growth hormone to increase his home run total is certain to be labeled a cheater, as is a cyclist who increases his red blood cell count using erythropoietin. Such substances have brought about the downfall of several world-class athletes — just ask Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong.

    Other cases, however, send those moral compasses spinning into a confused frenzy.

    South African cyclist Daryl Impey swallowed capsules filled with sodium bicarbonate to combat lactic acid buildup during the South African road championships, affording him more energy and endurance.

    It would seem that sodium bicarbonate conferred an unfair advantage on Impey. But before calling for a universal ban, consider NaHCO3’s common name: baking soda. As The New York Times columnist Alex Hutchinson points out, organizations can’t just ban baking soda.

    And what about substances like creatine, a compound that allows for increased endurance during weightlifting, and caffeine? Such products, Hutchinson notes, have performance-enhancing effects yet are still widely allowed in professional and amateur athletics.

    The reality is that a very fine line separates legal performance enhancers from prohibited drugs.

    It’s difficult to describe in words why intuition says caffeine and baking soda are somehow different than HGH and EPO. While it may seem strange to implement a total ban on caffeine or baking soda, it would not be unreasonable to limit the quantity an athlete is allowed to use prior to competition.

    To keep up with modern methods of rule-breaking, athletic organizations should constantly analyze and alter their policies. They may not be able to prevent all the Daryl Impeys of the world from exploiting the chemical properties of baking soda, but they can adjust their rules as necessary to make sure that such abuses only happen once. 

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    Elizabeth Hannah is a biochemistry sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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