Monthly Archives: May 2014


Q: What’s this? The first World Cup ad?
A: Yes, adidas has launched the first commercial of its campaign and, as you can see, it’s provocative.
Q: Why provocative? I can recognize Kanye West on the soundtrack, but so what?
A: Because adidas have edited the track so that the references to “cocks” and “muthfuckas” and so on have been expunged.
Q: Perhaps that will make adidas appear edgy and appeal to the demographic they want. But, hang on a minute: doesn’t Kanye do something similar for adidas’s arch rivals Nike?
A: He did. Last year, he switched to adidas: the terms of the new deal mean that, just after the World Cup, there will be a new lines of shoes and apparel bearing the Kanye West imprimatur.
Q: Eh? What’s an imprimatur?
A: A sort of personal guarantee. West licences out his name. Most A-list celebs do this sort of thing nowadays. It’s pretty standard practice: you’ll notice Kanye West-themed adidas gear everywhere.
Q: I can see the logic of this if an athlete endorses the clothes and shoes. I mean, Nike and Michael Jordan was the most productive marketing tie-up in history. But Kanye West is a musician. What’s he got to do with sportsgear?
A: The only thing that matters is that consumers know and identify with West. Precisely what he’s known for is irrelevant. Sports stars are used to advertise all sorts of products that have nothing to do with sport. Musicians can reverse the process. Anyway adidas has done its homework: the company will know its customers like and follow West.
Q: It’s clever marketing for West too, I suppose.
A: Definitely. He’s trailing the new track “God Level” in an ad that is going to be seen and heard globally. So it’s effective advertising for him as well as adidas. It’s called cross-promotion. Advertising today combines products in such a way that the consumer isn’t expected to know it’s actually an ad at all: they just immerse themselves in the video. In this sense, I think you’d have to conclude the new ad is successful.
Q: This is the first seriously big ad campaign, isn’t it?
A: Yes, over the next couple of months, we are all — and I mean everybody in the world — going to be bombarded with ads for so many products it will make our heads spin. The World Cup is, on one level, a sports tournament; on another level, it is an marketing extravaganza. It has become such a globally popular event that advertisers know they can get the attention of literally millions. Fifa has been criticised for inflating viewing figures, but there is still nothing to touch the World Cup when it comes to bringing viewers to their screens; and remember people will be watching on portable devices too this time. You also have to remind yourself that the advertising doesn’t stop when the whistle goes. Hoardings will display ads for the whole game, players will wear branded footwear and, on commercial tv, halftime breaks will be crammed with advertising. Britain’s ITV will probably charge £300,000 for 30-second slots during the pregame, halftime and postgame intervals.
Q: I hate to bring this up, but it strikes me that when we are watching the games, the advertising will still be working on us.
A: Which leads us to ask: are we being entertained by the competition, or are we being sold stuff? The answer is, as you’ve already guessed: both. Everything comes with a price tag, right? Even watching a game on commercial-free BBC will implicate you in an advertising interaction. Consumption doesn’t just mean buying products for their use: it’s become a relationship through which we gratify ourselves and, strange as it seems, make our selves. Things are parts of our identities. adidas may sell products, but they also provide identity accoutrements.


Sport’s Doping Problem: A Rational Solution — Allow Drugs

Time: July 13, 1967. Place: Mont Ventoux, southern France. Event: Tour de France. Twenty-nine-year-old British rider Tom Simpson was lying seventh overall when the 13th stage of the race set off from Marseilles. The temperature was well over 40°C (105°F) but Simpson was an experienced competitor, having turned professional 10 years before, and would presumably pace himself. Unexpectedly, he slowed almost to a halt, wobbled and veered to his right. Helpers, sensing his distress, rushed to help as Simpson fell from his cycle (footage of the fall is still viewable at watch?v=e4viqf-qL9I).

From the archive, 14 July 1967: Simpson dies after collapse on Tour

Simpson appeared to lose consciousness as he fell; he never recovered and died. Three tubes were found in Simpson’s pocket, one full of amphetamines, and two empties. The British team’s luggage was searched and more supplies of the pills were found. At the time, the drugs element did not cause the sensation that might be expected today: the death itself was of most concern. In continental Europe, there was substantial and open advocacy of the use of stimulants to alleviate the strain of long-distance cycling. There is little doubt that many of the leading contenders in the 1967 and other tours were taking amphetamines. Seven years before, in a less publicized tragedy, another cyclist, Knut Jensen collapsed during an Olympic race and later died in hospital where amphetamine was found in his system. (His was the second Olympic death after Portuguese marathon runner Francisco Lazaro died from heatstroke in 1912.)

Simpson’s death occasioned soul-searching among Tour organizers. It was not the first time they had considered the use of stimulants. A tentative attempt in the previous year to introduce drug testing was opposed by leading cyclists, including the five-times Tour winner Jacques Anquetil, who told the publication France-Dimanche: “Yes, I dope myself. You would be a fool to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year in all temperatures and conditions can hold up without a stimulant” (see Mignon, 2003). Interestingly, Simpson was not denounced as a cheat at the time; his death opened up a rather different discourse about the perils of drug taking rather than the morality of it.

The case presaged a new era in sport: 2 years later, limited drugs testing was trialed at the Mexico Olympics and, during the 1970s, track and field and other sports introduced penalties for those who fell foul of the new rules. Antidoping policies have since been adopted by every major sport. As a measure of their effectiveness, consider the Tour de France results 52 years after Simpson’s death. The winner of the race Alberto Contador was subsequently banned for 2 years and stripped of his 2010 Tour title for a doping violation. The third placed rider was Lance Armstrong. The lesson is unambiguous: doping control has failed. A more rational approach, one that is more congruent with the reality of sports in the twenty-first century and one that would make sports immeasurably safer is to permit doping. Competitors could then be treated as rational decision-makers, capable of evaluating evidence and making informed choices—rather than internees.

The Fallout from Corporatization
After the Simpson tragedy, cycling’s governing body the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) might have sought a way of distinguishing the illegal recreational substances that have little or no relevance to sport from the performance enhancing materials that were thought to promote athletic performance. They could have accepted that the substances used by athletes were a response to the changing demands of professional sport and sought policies that attempted to safeguard the welfare of competitors without trying to extirpate the use of what later became known as performance enhancing substances. Instead, it continued to lump them together under the rubric of “drugs”—a term that still evokes images of crack-addicted mothers who sell their babies and murderous Medellín cartel dealers operating in a continent of violence.In the decades that followed—particularly after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles—commercial sponsors increasingly used sports as marketing vehicles, inviting some to coin the term corporatization to describe the hijacking of what was once a wholesome competitive endeavor. So reliant were many sports on the largess from sponsors, that a withdrawal could have been ruinous. Brands such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola paid generously to have their names associated with a pursuit that resonates health, cleanliness, and purity. How would they have reacted if sport allowed “drugs”? When sports governing bodies resolve to clamp down harder on drug users, it is for the benefit of its sponsors more than either the competitors or the fans. Antidoping policy is expensive, ineffectual, unproductive, futile, and a denial of the athletes’ freedoms. Athletes from across the spectrum have made their intentions signally clear: they will continue to defy the most stringent tests and stay ahead of the curve, always leaving testers lagging in their quest to eliminate doping. A sensible response and one that would render sport safer and consistent with competition today is: to remove the banned substances list and allow athletes to make informed and intelligent choices as to whether or not they wish to take performance-enhancing substances. After all, sport practically incites competitors; let me explain.Typically, athletes use dope not to cheat but to remain competitive. Andrea Petróczi and Eugene Aidman submit: “Athletes today are expected and encouraged to seek every possible way to improve their performance, including specialized training, hi-tech design of equipment and apparel, scientific and medical support, including the use of nutritional supplements” (Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 2).Petróczi and Aidman’s research moves beyond this, however. Among the reasons cited for taking performance-enhancing drugs (not recreational) are: perceived external pressure, suspicion that rivals are using something, painkilling, meeting the physical demands of training. Most competitors would prefer to compete drug-free; many are still prepared to use drugs, provided the substance is undetectable. Some do not see drugs in sport as being a problem and accept that drugs are part of their training regime. Petróczi and Aidman conclude that athletes typically agonize over whether to dope, trying to anticipate what their rivals will do. Their findings find support from the Olympic discus thrower Werner Reiterer, who, in his (2000) autobiography, reflects on how he found himself caught on the horns of the same dilemma: “The minority of athletes who are natural are at a disadvantage,” Reiterer believes. “You must adapt to an environment as it is, not as you think it should be.” His adaptation was to use.

The framework proposed by Petróczi and Aidman makes this type of adaptation intelligible. “Doping practices grow out of habitual engagement in a range of acceptable performance enhancement (PE) practices, such as physiotherapy, advanced nutrition, training techniques, specialized equipment and apparel” ( Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 3). They also happen in a particular kind of environment in which there are effective, pharmaceutically produced drugs that are easily available and in which people habitually use “drugs to assist with aspects of life.” They presumably have in mind drugs that work on the body’s neurotransmission system: the most widely prescribed antidepressant is fluoxetine, better known by its commercial name Prozac. The ethos of organized sport is also part of the environment and, when Petróczi and Aidman point out, “the aim is winning, being the best or setting/breaking a record,” they might also add: making money and becoming a celebrity.

The Dilemmas of Rational Calculators
Petróczi and Aidman’s research alerts us to the culture and mentality of competitors, who strive to achieve and habitually face the decision about whether to engage in “functional drug use,” which “refers to a strategic use of substance to achieve a set goal (i.e. to improve a function or skill)” (Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 6). As such, functional use should not be confused with “experimental, recreational, or dependent use (abuse/addiction).” Petróczi and Aidman’s approach highlights the “vulnerability” of athletes as they progress through a sports life-cycle: at various stages, they make key choices, commitments about goals, investments in training and comparisons, asking themselves questions such as, “have you got what you hoped for?” “has the plan worked?” and “what is next?” At every stage, influences from coaches, friends, fans, and perhaps the media shape decision-making. Remember the background: a highly competitive and possibly remunerative, win-oriented culture in which supplements and pharmaceuticals are habitually used. Not even the most stringent antidrugs policy can remove this.Research by Peter Strelan and Robert J. Boeckmann is also predicated on the assumption that competitors, like most humans, are “rational calculators who, with the benefit of time and reflection, make decisions designed to be of net benefit to themselves. Most athletes’ decisions to use banned substances are presumably rational” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2912)Strelan and Boeckmann found that half of athletes in their study indicated there was some likelihood that they would use a performance-enhancing drug for rehabilitation purposes” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2923). Their commitment was so strong that they believed using a banned substance was a “viable response to a career-threatening situation.” Viable is an interesting choice of word: it suggests that the response was regarded as workable, a feasible way out of a tough predicament.So what are athletes thinking when they make their decisions? Moral beliefs and health concerns, according to Strelan and Boeckmann. The deterrent effect of legal sanctions and the disgrace involved is not nearly so effective as WADA and sports governing organizations apparently assume. The proliferating number of undetectable or designer drugs means that laws against drugs are impossible to fully implement and “unenforceable laws are less able to convey the moral or social threats required to inhibit behavior” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2926).But, if competitors are “most likely to be deterred by their moral beliefs,” as Strelan and Boeckmann contend, where do those moral beliefs come from? Conceptions of rightness and wrongness are variable: they change over time and through space. Strelan and Boeckmann answer: “The ban on performance-enhancing drugs in sport reflects society’s view that performance-enhancing drug use in sport is both morally wrong and potentially harmful to the individual” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2925).But, this is easily changed: if the laws against drug use did not exist, then athletes would know they could use performance-enhancers with impunity and would not believe they were engaging in an act that violated morality.

While the governing bodies continue to outlaw pharmaceutically produced substances, athletes are forced to engage in clandestine arrangements, procuring “doping agents” from unknown sources and taking them in amounts and for periods that may prove detrimental to their health. A morally honest policy would permit doping, but invite athletes to disclose whatever substances they have used. Sports organizations could then commission research and advise athletes on what is most effective and in what quantities and at what intervals it can safely be ingested. Remember: antidoping policies were initially designed to protect the health of athletes.

The Protean Concept of Fair Play
There are no moral absolutes in sport. Definitions of cheating and fair play are protean: they change perpetually. Today’s athletes use air-inflated soles on their spikes, rather than flats; they run on fast artificial surfaces, not cinders; they wear aerodynamic body suits rather than baggy shirts. And, of course, they train; this would have been tantamount to cheating in the early nineteenth century. Polyurethane swimwear was fair, at least until 2009 when Fina (Fédération Internationale de Natation), aquatic sports’ governing federation, declared it unfair and illegal.Even today, there are mystifying contradictions. For example, in December 2013, the football player Jan Vertonghen, then playing for London’s Tottenham Hotspur, used a legal technique, known as PRP (platelet-rich plasma): a sample of his blood was taken to remove the platelets—the cells that assist the healing process–and then injected them back into his injured ankle (Hirst, 2013). Tiger Woods and Rafa Nadal have also used this “blood spinning” technique. But the injection of their own oxygenated blood into athletes before an event, a process known as blood doping, is a punishable violation. There appears to be little consistency.We contentedly allow, even recommend some types of aids to today’s athletes, yet instantly condemn those athletes if traces of a banned substance are detected. Yet the inconsistencies multiply. If an Olympic archer uses contact lenses to assist his or her performance, we let it pass. If he or she takes a beta-blocker to steady their nerves, we suspend them. The hypocrisy of track and field, in particular, is apparent every season when athletes are given huge cash incentives to break records or remain unbeaten on the Diamond League circuit, yet denied the right to maximize their athletic effort. The kind of “dope” favored by athletes is not some sort of magic elixir: it merely enables them to train harder and for longer and so become more adept at a discipline.Doping of some kind has been commonplace since the inaugural Olympics of 776 BC. “While the violation of Olympic rules was dealt with harshly in the ancient games, it does not appear that the use of drugs and other substances to improve athletic performance was considered cheating,” write Yesalis and Bahrke (2002: pp 43). It was probably going on during the early twentieth century, an age about which many rhapsodize. But the chariots of fire have long since bolted. The joy of competing for competition’s sake has ceded place to a winner-takes-all mentality, cultivated by professionalism. This has been made possible by corporate sponsorship on a scale that makes the World Bank envious. One of the reasons corporate sponsors turned to sport from the mid-1980s was because rock stars and movie actors were too prone to embarrassing transgressions. That must be a question that weighs heavily on the minds of sport’s administrators. Somehow, they must persuade sponsors and the public that the pharmaceutical materials typically taken by athletes are not drugs, at least not in the way they are popularly conceived.1The alternative is to persist in the self-defeating search for ever more sophisticated and comprehensive tests to detect substances that probably do not even have a name at the moment. Already, the costs of detection are punishingly high. There will come a point at which the kind of surveillance and inspection required to monitor athletes will be just too expensive; the corporations will have to be persuaded that radical change is the only way forward.This provides little comfort to idealists who still hark after the amateur ideals. They may abominate the prospect of their children aspiring to achieve in a profession in which doping is extensive. I sense that parents today are no longer dissuading their kids from going into sport. The lure of lucre has made it appear to be a feasible and rewarding career. Would they think twice if they anticipated their offspring would soon be using performance enhancers, if only to remain competitive in an environment in which athletes have carte blanche?

My feeling is that it would not make any difference. After all, the only reason we regard performance enhancement as dirty is because we have rarely been encouraged to question the present policies. Many of the products on the banned list are available over the counter and most are accessible with a prescription. They are no dirtier than the kind of products the nation is habituated to taking every day. Those parents who insist they would not, need to remind themselves that the future they deplore is actually already with us. Sanctimoniously denying it by claiming, “we are winning the war on drugs” remains a deception. This is no policy of surrender, only an acknowledgement that, like every other feature of culture, sport changes and develops.

  • (2013) Tottenham to use controversial blood-spinning technique to speed Jan Vertonghen return. Independent (UK) December 11. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from
  • (2003). The Tour de France and the doping issue. International Journal of the History of Sport, 20(2), 227245.
  • , & (2008). Psychological drivers in doping: The life-cycle model of performance enhancement. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 3(7), 112.
  • (2000). Positive: An Australian Olympian reveals the inside story of drugs and sport. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia.
  • , & (2006) Why drug testing in elite sport does not work: Perceptual deterrence theory and the role of personal moral beliefs. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(12), 29092934.
  • , (2002). History of doping in sport. International Sports Studies, 24(1), 4276.

1Editor’s note. There have been and are many definitions of “drugs” throughout history; religious (sacramental substances), social (recreational drugs), medicinal (consensualized medicines for treating and/or preventing consensualized conditions or diseases), legal (“dangerous drugs”), economic (commodities), political (“War on Drugs”), and scientific-pharmacological (any active chemical which effects the functioning or structure of a living organism) amongst others. Each is based on its own criteria, used by their stakeholders with targeted populations, for specific agendas and goals and with particular implications and consequences.

Read More: This article will be published in the next issue of Substance Use & Misuse

Q: How should we deal with racism in sport? A: Learn from the NBA

Q: So what’s all the fuss about with the National Basketball Association and this guy Don Sterling?
A: Sterling is the owner of the NBA club Los Angeles Clippers. He has a supermodel girlfriend (pictured with him above), who apparently invited African American friends to games. Sterling, it seems, told her not to bring them. The league got to hear about this and took a very dim view.
Q: I guess the NBA punished him, eh?
A: And how! The league hit him with a $2.5 million (about £1.5m) fine and banned him for life. So he can’t go near his own club now. The NBA also says he must sell the Clippers.
Q: What’s the club worth?
A: $575 million, according to Forbes magazine.
Q: Wow! Can the NBA actually force him to sell?
A: This remains to be seen. Remember: this is the land of the free and home of the brave and private property is at the heart of the American ethos. Sterling’s lawyers will be preparing to challenge the NBA’s decision. He can afford the fine, but he’ll almost certainly want to keep his club. There is bound to be a long legal struggle ahead.
Q: Does the punishment fit the crime?
A: It’s certainly an extremely harsh punishment, unparalleled in sport history. His comments are not directly abusive, but they are racist by inference. Compared to some of the incidents we’ve seen in football, they are relatively mild. Don’t get me wrong: you can extrapolate the racism from his remarks, but in Europe players and fans openly mouth racist language and use Twitter to convey racist epithets. The nearest case to this one was in 2007 when Spain’s head coach Luis Aragonés was caught on camera referring to the then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as “that black shit.”
Q: And how did Uefa, football’s European governing organization, react?
A: A £2,000 fine, which Aragonés later successfully appealed.
Q: But that was seven years ago. Uefa and football’s world governing federation Fifa are tougher on racism now, right?
A: Last October, Uefa ordered the partial closure of CSKA Moscow’s stadium for one game following racist chanting directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. Only last week, Uefa said it wasn’t able to take action against a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves because it was up to the Spanish federation to act.
Q: This sounds almost unbelievably soft in comparison with the NBA approach.
A: It is. You have to remember: nearly 77% of the National Basketball Association’s players are African American. The league is embarrassed because only one club has an African American owner.
Q: That would be Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, right?
A: Correct. Nearly half the coaches in the league are black, but the NBA would like more ownership profile to look a bit more like the player profile. You also have to think that a lot of basketball fans are black. So the NBA is understandably sensitive about any hint of racism, especially at the top.
Q: Finally, do you think football has anything to learn from this?

A: Racism has been in football since the late 1970s and the sport has never successfully managed to rid itself of what has become its most bedevilling problem. No other sport has struggled with racism in the same way as the so-called beautiful game — which is the most multicultural sport in history, of course. The NBA’s approach seems to be this: stamp down hard on the first evidence of racism in the most dramatic, emphatic way it legally can, and this will send out a clear message. Football has been lily-livered and the message it’s been sending out is: “racism is unpleasant, but we have other priorities; so we’ll dole out minor fines or close parts of stadiums and hope this will suffice.” It won’t. I’m not saying it should take clubs away from owners, but a fine of £1.5m for a first offence and perhaps suspension from European competition for a few years might have the required effect.