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Edited by B Houlihan. Council of Europe Publishing, 2002, £17.95, softcover, pp 247. ISBN 9287146853
Dying to win gives an eye opening account of the extent to which drugs play a major role in sport. Doping is not new and has been used in sport since ancient Olympic times; it is just that drug use in modern times is at such a level of sophistication, it is now an industry in its own right. The book describes the privileged position sport holds in society, having appeal for both the participant and the spectator. This has led to the massive media interest, commercialism, professionalism, and governmental regulation and manipulation. Economic pressure in the industrialised world and governmental propaganda in the former East Germany, and more recently China, paved the way for the increasing pharmaceutical intervention in sport. With the fall of the GDR, the world saw for the first time what it had long suspected, the extent of systematic doping on a State run basis, and the most interesting fact is that the East Germans kept excellent records! Further, the book takes a look at the next big issue surrounding drugs in sport—genetic engineering.
Dying to win does not just describe the evolution of doping. It explains the complex relation between anti-doping policy, implementation of those policies, and the role of governments, the IOC, and international and national sporting organisations. With the ever increasing involvement of the legal profession, a vicious circle occurs: it becomes too costly for sporting organisations to fight court battles, with their reliance on Government funding depending on results and punishments set in accordance with what will stand up in courts. This all leads to the relative inertia of the governing bodies to be pro-active in the anti-drugs campaign. The inception of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after the 1998 Tour de France drugs fiasco provided a way forward to standardise and implement anti-doping policy across the world by an independent body.
Problems and solutions to anti-doping policy are addressed. The major problem is inadequate definition of doping—to quote Arthur Gold “The definition lies not in words but in integrity of character.”. It is interesting to note that those behind the athlete, namely coach, administrators, medical profession, and scientists, all seem to lose perspective along with their ethics and “integrity of character” when the race for “gold” is on. Dying to win suggests that these people should be held just as accountable as the athletes themselves. Another unfortunate aspect of anti-doping policy is the difficulty in detecting some abused drugs and the fact that these strategies often lag way behind the ability of the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs, often for genuine medical reasons but with the unfortunate ability to enhance performance. Education is proposed as a key aspect to anti-doping policy, and parallels with its success in the use of recreational drugs are made. Governments also play a role in limiting supply, decreasing demand for drugs, and the implementation of independent bodies to carry out drug testing. The success of anti-doping policy is also hard to measure. Fewer positive tests may simply reflect a move to less detectable methods rather than a decrease in use, and success may be better measured in terms of fewer world records.
Dying to win gives an accurate account of the problem of doping in sport and the difficulties and complexities in finding solutions to the problems. It makes interesting and provocative reading for all those involved in sport, from the athlete and coach to the sport administrator, the medical profession, and governments.
Evidence basis 19/20