Given the recent flurry of revelations (from Chael Sonnen to Wanderlei Silva) of PED abuse and an unwillingness to submit to random testing procedures in MMA’s top contenders it has become a huge point of concern with fans and pundits alike on how to combat this problem.
Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting wrote a rather substantive article weighing the pros and cons of the UFC joining the WADA as a Code Signatory for their policies and procedures. While increased testing frequency and lowering tolerances for the use of banned substances in the sport would certainly root out more of those abusing the system, my belief on what exactly would constitute a remedy differs slightly.
First let me say I whole heartedly agree with Mr. Thomas’ suggestion that following stricter protocols for testing and validation is key to improving fairness in the sport by deterring and revealing those would be and current abusers. However, the greatest issue is not that of the testing parameters as it is the tolerance the industry has as a whole. Mr. Thomas alluded to this reluctance to conform to the strictest of standards by almost all professional sports associations in the US in his article. But knowing that the associations and promotions may not be so inclined to air their dirty laundry it may be up to the commissions to employ stricter standards for punishment.
Perhaps the best solution would be a zero tolerance policy employed by the Athletic Commissions that involves a permanent ban from the sport in each respective jurisdiction upon the first violation. Does this seem like a harsh approach? Sure it does. But if we are to take the problem seriously perhaps it’s time we started putting our money where our mouth is. By employing a permanent ban there would undoubtably be some significant casualties. There might even be dissent among some of those athletes greatest supporters. Yet the net result would likely be a harsh fear of being caught that would simply deter those who feel they can “game the system” (as Chael Sonnen put it recently) from even attempting to do so in the first place.
2 year bans, 6 month bans, any temporary ban from the sport does nothing to prevent an athlete from learning from their mistake and trying to improve upon their technique to game the system. In fact, if one is given the opportunity to compete again, it’s entirely likely that the resentment from the initial ban would be so significant it would drive them to pursue a means to game the system with more drive than they ever had before.
The fact is, no testing protocol, no standards for validation will ever be strict enough to prevent an abuser from making it into the ring/cage. However, a permanent ban upon the first violation would significantly reduce those willing to risk it all on gaining a temporary advantage during a competition. That way even if we miss a few here and there, we are assured that the those who might have been willing to risk a 6 month ban will then be extremely hesitant from attempting anything.
There is one more matter to consider. That is who is providing these banned substances to these athletes and for what purposes. If indeed a physician is willing to put their name to pen and paper and certify that a specific athlete requires treatment for any medical reason then in such a circumstance there should be no reason to penalize that individual from competing. They are not doping but rather treating a medical condition. To accuse them of the prior would be tantamount to prejudice that leads the industry in a direction of exclusion rather than inclusion.
We should consider both these factors. Stricter punishment but also more reasonable standards for testing and validation. Especially when it comes to therapeutic use exceptions.
One last item to consider, and this is perhaps most important. If a doctor is willing to put pen to paper on a therapeutic use exception and there is suspicion of less than scrupulous behavior on the part of that physician then there should be penalties applied to the physician in question. That is most important of all. We rarely hear of any physicians fined by a commission for improperly prescribing a PED to an athlete. This is very important to consider.
And likely the last thing that everyone should be cognizant of is what the actual ramifications of all of this will mean. It may mean that our favorite athletes have far less lengthy careers. It may also exclude many people who require treatment but due to misconceptions in medical science they may be less than apt to engage in competition because of a fear of prejudice or persecution. We could be losing some immense talent and also some very entertaining events.
So to leave you with one last thought. Would it just be easier to say “to hell with it all” and let those who would risk their health for a temporary advantage do so at their own risk? After all, it does seem that the number of abusers is far, far greater than we possibly ever imagined!