Athlete Microchips Won’t Solve Doping


How far are we keen to go within the combat towards doping?

The query arose final week, when Mike Miller, CEO of the World Olympians Association (WOA), floated the concept that skilled athletes should be fitted with microchips so their blood knowledge may be subjected to fixed scrutiny. According to Miller, one of many flaws of our present anti-doping system is that it may decide solely whether or not an athlete is clear on the time of testing, whereas microchip expertise might doubtlessly allow a extra complete type of monitoring. In a baffling analogy, Miller tried to preempt potential criticism by stating that, as a society, we already condone the microchipping of canines. And we like canines.

“Some people say we shouldn’t do this to people,” Miller stated at a discussion board in London. “Well, we’re a nation of dog lovers, we’re prepared to chip our dogs, and it doesn’t seem to harm them, so why aren’t we prepared to chip ourselves?” (As the Guardian reported, the theme of this discussion board was “integrity in sport.”)

Unsurprisingly, Miller’s suggestion was met with skepticism. According to, Beckie Scott, chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Athlete Committee, referred to the thought as a type of “surveillance” and as a “GPS-style system.” A Telegraph headline learn: “Microchip Athletes ‘Like Dogs’ to Stop Doping, Says Olympians’ Chief.” The backlash was important sufficient that the WOA issued a press release emphasizing that Miller’s feedback have been “a personal opinion” and didn’t signify the group’s official stance. (Miller, for his half, stated his remarks have been taken “out of context” and claims he made it “very clear” that he was talking just for himself, not for the WOA as an entire.)

Given that even the WOA took motion to distance itself, it appears unlikely that Miller’s proposal will turn into a actuality anytime quickly. But maybe the actual story right here is that Miller felt compelled to counsel such an excessive measure within the first place.

“They wouldn’t be proposing this if anti-doping strategies were working. That’s very telling in itself,” says Charles Yesalis, writer of The Steroids Game, who for many years has been a advisor on anti-doping coverage for organizations together with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“For [Miller] to mention something this profoundly degrading I think demonstrates how impotent they feel regarding all this,” Yesalis provides.

To some extent, our requirements for what qualify as “profoundly degrading” measures in doping prevention are at all times altering. Yesalis concedes that our present drug-testing infrastructure initially flouted norms as nicely; throughout earlier phases of implementation, Yesalis says, he’d heard arguments from attorneys that urine testing was an invasion of privacy and that blood testing was tantamount to assault and battery. Such strategies are actually considered standard. Although some athletes will occasionally complain that drug checks are a nuisance or a distraction (as they certainly are), the prevailing sentiment appears to be that testing is simply a part of the deal of being a professional or school athlete. That’s the road Miller took when anticipating the pushback that microchipping is overly invasive. Elite sport, Miller stated in his speech, is a “club” that may make its personal guidelines—no person is being pressured to affix. This argument is problematic, to say the least. (For 1 factor, to be ready to “join the club” takes years of dedication and sacrifice; the concept that athletes will merely decide out in the event that they take into account a brand new drug testing coverage a violation of their rights appears reasonably callous.)

But let’s play satan’s advocate and assume that, in 2017, tagging our high athletes with microchips isn’t such an enormous deal. After all, many people are already bumbling round with health trackers on our wrists and the GPS completely enabled on our telephones.

A extra elementary downside persists: Given that aspiring dopers will at all times try to outflank new testing strategies, there’s no assure that potential cheats couldn’t manipulate a subdermal implant. No matter how subtle the anti-doping equipment, relating to beating the system, there’s at all times a manner. The most nefariously spectacular side of the urine-swapping operation of Russian athletes on the Sochi Olympics was that (alleged) FSB brokers managed to open sealed “tamperproof” bottles so that they might be refilled with clear piss. Swiss firm Berlinger (firm slogan: “Feel Safe”) particularly engineered the caps on these bottles to interrupt upon opening. That nonetheless wasn’t sufficient to thwart the Russian secret service. “Operation Sochi Resultat,” because it was chronicled within the New York Times and later in Bryan Fogel’s documentary Icarus, is a sobering reminder that there is no such thing as a fail-safe system.

Rather than signaling the top of doping tradition, a extra invasive technique of athlete monitoring may find yourself simply subjecting athletes to a larger danger of getting their private medical knowledge stolen or sabotaged. The World Anti-Doping Agency, as we’ve seen again and again, is hardly a hackproof group. You don’t must be a Tom Clancy–degree conspiracy theorist to see how outfitting athletes with externally monitored nanotechnology is likely to be asking for bother.

“Equifax got hacked,” says Yesalis, who has been requested to testify to Congress no fewer than six occasions on anti-doping issues. “Do the dopes—pun intended—at the IOC think that they can’t be hacked? It’s hard for me to believe that it could be made bulletproof.”

(Editor references)

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