An editorial by Takaomi Matsubara
A doping violation-free Olympics. How many times has that been touted as a point of pride for Japan? But in recent year the number of Japanese athletes falling afoul of doping regulations, even at the Olympics, has become conspicuous. A male cyclist in 2016. In 2017 a male swimmer, a male wrestler and a female fencer were all judged to have committed doping violations. In February this year at the Pyeongchang Olympics short track speed skater Kei Saito and again in May Rio Olympian and 2009 100 m backstroke world champion Junya Koga were both announced to have failed drug tests.
There was also the case last September of a national team-level kayak athlete who had mixed prohibited substances into a rival athlete's drink, but many of the aforementioned athletes were found to have committed violations inadvertently rather than deliberately. Others have likewise claimed that the violations were accidental, and looking at the amount of the substances in question it's reasonable to think these claims are true. Even if only through negligence, why is one after another athlete coming into conflict with the rules? There are two primary reasons.
The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded in 1999, with systematic anti-doping regulations coming into effect in 2004. In the years following that athletes and their collaborators trying to win competitions by skirting the rules began to be discovered, and as that trend continued the rules and testing became increasingly stringent. The list of prohibited substances and methods is updated every year, and it's not easy to stay up to date with the changes. Something that may have been fine the year before may suddenly become off-limits with the change of the new year.
It's now at a level that's difficult for an individual athlete to grasp, and there are those involved in the industry who say, "Isn't it to a point where the average doctor can't immediately judge whether something will pass doping regulations or not?" The increasingly degree of specialization necessary in paying attention not just to the athlete but to their surroundings has been cited as one reason for the increase in the number of athletes committing doping violations.
The other primary reason is that it has become prevalent for athletes to regularly take supplements. This is a potential pitfall. A variety of ingredients go into making the typical supplement. Major makers, especially those with a high degree of specialization in the sports industry, understand which ingredients are problematic and offer various support like informational seminars when making them available to athletes. But not every athlete will receive that kind of professional support, leaving many to have to study up on the topic on their own.
Among the athletes mentioned earlier were some who were taking supplements they had researched online after experiencing periods of poor performance results. In some cases the cheap prices of the supplements were a factor in the athletes choosing them. But not all the information published on the Internet is correct. Even in products that have been deemed OK there may be variations in the quality control portion of the manufacturing process, and cases have been reported where banned substances have been included without being listed.
When asked why they started taking a supplement, some athletes say, "**** is taking this, so I started taking it too." You could say that in starting to take a supplement they were just playing "monkey see, monkey do" instead of doing their homework. In either case it's common for athletes to be in an environment where they don't have solid support from experts in the field.
Given an athlete's natural desire to improve, it's not impossible to understand the psychology of wanting to use supplements for that purpose. But the cost of testing positive is tremendous. In the case of the wrestler mentioned earlier, the initial two-year suspension that was handed down was shortened by four months in May when the violation was found to have been inadvertent, but even so the suspension remained at 1 year, 8 months. The fencer similarly still had to serve 1 year, 3 months.
Although these and other cases have continued to surface, overall Japan can still be described as an overwhelmingly clean nation. In every sport, when you look at athletes from other countries that's the feeling you get. Based on that point, athletes must pay very, very careful attention to what they are doing, and there is an ever-growing necessity for sports organizations, coaches and managers to convey accurate information to the athletes in their care. Athletes must fully understand that not only for their competitive careers but also for the sake of their future lives post-retirement, there can be no reliance upon claims that "it was accidental." Whatever the reason, no one is hurt more by a positive test than the athletes themselves.
translated by Brett Larner