Caught in the drugnet

March 12, 2016, India

Maria Sharapova is just the latest in a growing list of athletes to be banned for taking performance enhancing drugs, and it has cost her dearly in tens of millions of dollars in earnings.

You would think that would be enough to scare off all athletes, off all drugs, for all time. But it’s just a matter of time before the next drug scandal hits the headlines on the sports page.

I guess athletes have to take calculated risks as their career spans are short, and they need to maximise earnings during those 10–15 years. Gaining even the slightest edge can be the difference between winning or losing, with millions in prizemoney and endorsements at stake.

Like Rafael Nadal has admitted using stem-cell therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy or blood spinning, to recover from his knee injuries. It’s legal but unpredictable as it’s a new treatment. But he had to risk it, as his injured knees had put him out of action for nearly a year. He also takes anti-inflammatories like Fenbufen and Voltaren. The only other things he uses are what is seen on court, like water, mineral salts, and ‘natural things.’

Andy Murray also has said that he uses protein shakes, energy gels and sports drinks. He also pointed out that he no longer takes any vitamin supplements, instead getting his vitamin intake through food.

Apart from looking for natural alternatives, both these tennis stars agree that Sharapova must be punished for her failed drug test. They know firsthand how much effort it takes to get to the top, and see no reason why a player who gets there with an unfair advantage, should get away with it.

Sharapova won the 2014 French Open final in three sets (6–4, 6–7, 6–4). Did Meldonium give her that extra edge? What if Simona Halep who was the runner-up that day, eventually retires without ever having won a Grand Slam trophy to show for the years she sacrificed for the sport.

Players like that are the real losers in this long running saga of drugs and sports, and the reason why not punishing Sharapova would be an injustice.

It may not stop dishonest athletes from taking drugs. But it may make them a bit cautious for a while, and give honest athletes a chance to compete on a level playing field.

And isn’t that what every sports fans wants?

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