As the Summer Olympics approach, John Oliver dedicated Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight” to the pervasive problem of doping.
“While the Olympics feature thrilling displays of athletic prowess,” the host said after showing some of the inspirational stories of athletes in the games, “they can also take place beneath the dark shadow cast by doping scandals.”
Athletes using performance-enhancing drugs has been a major problem in the Olympics, most recently with the ban of Russian track-and-field athletes from this summer’s Rio games. Through various whistleblowers, it has been alleged that the athletes were doping with the help of the Russian government.
But Russia isn’t the only problem. Oliver points to one anonymous survey in which 29% of track-and-field athletes at the 2011 world championships said they had doped within the past year.
Oliver joked, “Presumably, that doesn’t even include ‘roided-out athletes who responded by yelling, ‘Survey make me angry!’ crumpling it up, and throwing it to the moon.”
It’s also surprising to Oliver when one considers the rigorous methods implemented to monitor athletes and to detect doping, including random tests and around-the-clock doping chaperones.
What Oliver finds to be the biggest problem is the mixed messaging within the sports community. One survey by WADA, the independent World Anti-Doping Agency, found that “there is no general appetite to undertake the effort and expense… to deliver doping-free sport.”
Additionally, WADA has been found to lack the authority to investigate anti-doping within countries like Russia and must rely on relationships with other organisations that may not be truly free of bias.
Just six weeks before the Summer Olympics, the Rio lab that was set to handle drug testing at the games was suspended by WADA.
So why don’t we just give up?
“That is definitely not the answer,” Oliver explained. “For a start, that could be very dangerous with athletes tempted to take greater and greater amounts to get that split-second edge. And it can potentially force clean athletes to dope. At which point, you’ve pretty much destroyed the integrity of sport.”
The host does have a suggestion for fixing the system: Make WADA truly independent and put more pressure on the sports community to combat doping.
“And if we don’t really care enough to make changes,” Oliver said, “we should at the very least make our syrupy athlete promos a bit more honest.”
Watch the segment below:
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