Sports Anti-Doping Bill

The Green Party will be supporting this bill.

I want to look at the question from a number of angles. My colleague Eric Roy said that the desire to win can cloud the judgment of sportspeople, and I do agree. But then, we have to look at the pressures on athletes to do that sort of thing nowadays, knowing that they are going to hurt their health by taking such drugs, in order to win. I think there is a problem in society with winning being everything.

In the past, participating and doing one’s best was what people aspired to. Now, winning has become everything. The glory comes to the winner, and in the international sports setting there are so many rewards for being No.1. We can even see it in the performance of our athletes, and the attitude of the public, both in New Zealand and around the world, to our athletes’ performances.

I am thinking of someone like Ben Fouhy, our kayaker in the Olympics who came second in his race, yet he was still subject to some criticism: “Oh you’ve previously been world champion and you didn’t win at the Olympics.” The pressure on him to win was just so great even though he did a fantastic performance in coming second to a Norwegian who was really at the top of his game.

And also the financial rewards internationally in terms of sponsorships and everything else have grown so much that to win means one can perhaps be a multimillionaire and live in comfort for the rest of one’s days. If one happens to come second at the Olympic Games, then all of those rewards do not come one’s way. So there is the social pressure, combined with the pressure of commercial sport, which is not good. It is also driven by the attitudes of the public and media in New Zealand.

The other unfortunate pressure is the pressure of national interest, and Eric Roy talked about the East European Governments of the past who were so desperate for some national glory through getting a lot of medals at Olympic Games, East Germany in particular, that they were engaged in doping on a substantial scale. In fact, one was ordered, as I understand it, if one was in an East German or Czechoslovakian team, one was ordered to take those drugs or one was not on the squad. That has led to great problems. It is not only East Europe.

American authorities seemed to be under similar pressure as well to make sure that their athletes won. A couple of years ago we had an exposure of a whole pile of athletes, including Carl Lewis, who seemed to be caught up in this pressure to take drugs. Carl Lewis was deemed to have taken not just one type, but three types of banned stimulants. When the international agencies – the International Olympic Committee and others – looked at the American Olympic Association and what it had done they were rather horrified at the defence of people like Carl Lewis, as not having any intent to take a drug. The world anti-doping chairman, Dick Pound dismissed the no- intent defence and said he had seen copies of US documents and that there was almost what he called “automatic forgiveness” by US officials. They were so desperate to have a lot of their people win gold medals that they tended to look the other way. The International Olympic Committee’s medical commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, said that the US Olympic Committee documents fitted a pattern of failure to report positive drug cases. So that is where perceived national interest can blind authorities to the dangers of doping and allow it to take place.

We saw, of course – and it has been brought up in this debate – Tim Montgomery, the 100 metres world record holder, now banned for a couple of years, and perhaps he should be banned for life for being caught up in drugs. In all possibility his partner, Marion Jones, who also won the gold medals at the Olympics, was also taking drugs.

What does this do to athletes who are really trying to do their best? One of the problems, and if I refer back to the East European doping in the past, is that there are some world records on the books still dating from that period where there was almost universal doping of East European athletes, particularly women athletes who gained an advantage out of it. Some of those athletics records are still on the books. The problem is, for athletes, today, they can excel at the very top of their sport and be at world record holder level, but there are still these drug-based world records still on the books that are in their way.

I think Flo Jo’s – Florence Griffiths Joiner – records for the 100 and 200 metres are still on the books in spite of the fact that most people recognise it likely that these were drug-induced world records. So that is very bad.

It is also bad for the fans as well, because we all had great pride in Carl Lewis for his performance. He was a hero to many, and it does tarnish one’s identification with the sport and with the progress of athletes if one later finds out if they are involved in drugs.

Similarly with Robin Tait, who was mentioned by Eric Roy. We had a lot of pride in his performance in the shot put and discus — the gold medals and the records that he had. Then to find out – and he openly admitted in later life – that he had been involved in steroid taking.

Graham May, our Christchurch weight lifter who was a medal winner as well, was also found to have taken drugs. It deflates people’s interest in the sport and their identification with the athletes and their performances if they find that out in later life. I am glad that the Minister, in his introductory speech, talked about out-of-season testing. There is a problem that some athletes get round drug testing by taking drugs as they are leading up to a performance and then when they know the testing regime is going to kick in, closer to the competitive athletics, they stop taking the drugs. The drugs disappear from their system but the athletes have had the benefit of them, by that time. So there is out-of-season testing and random testing, and another thing that can help is holding blood samples for later testing.

Sometimes athletes are at the front edge of scientific experimentation in drugs and they can get away with taking drugs because testing has not caught up with a particular drug. So holding blood samples for later testing can help to avoid the situation I talked about before, of the world records by the Florence Griffith Joyners, the Tim Montgomerys, or your Eastern European athletes in the past. Their world records cannot be taken from the books because there was no system to check drug testing at the time.

To conclude, I think this is a serious issue. As Tau Henare mentioned, sport is a part of our national identity. We want to make sure that in New Zealand we are a model in this respect. Even if we know that some other nations might be cheating and getting the edge, we just have to have confidence in our own athletes that they are performing to their highest ability. There has been no suspicions around Sarah Ulmer, who performed fantastically in cycling and most of our other athletes and I think we can be proud in that respect.


Parliament, First Reading