That professional ice hockey players seek to enhance their performance by consuming all sorts of substances hardly qualifies as news. Performance enhancement is, after all, an inalienable aspect of modern sport, including ice hockey.
That a Swedish player tested positive for a banned stimulant in this month’s Olympic winter games is an equally trivial occurrence. Or, to be more precise, it ought to have been a minor story that nobody would have cared to remember the following day.
Owing to the idiosyncrasies of sport journalists, the significance of the laboratory finding was immediately blown out of proportion. While some observers professed to believe that the ‘drug scandal’ had brought ‘shame’ on Swedish ice hockey or ‘damaged’ the country’s reputation, others sought to discover ‘conspiracies’ against Sweden in general and the ‘allergic’ athlete in particular. (He claimed to have treated his allergy with a classic performance-enhancing substance.)
Inevitably, the media fury obfuscated the real lesson of the pseudoephedrine incident, a lesson that may well anticipate a new and better era so far as athletes’ human rights are concerned.
In a truly remarkable development, a number of prominent players sided with their disqualified colleague. They pointed out that the use of the so-called doping stimulant didn’t violate the National (i.e. North-American) Hockey League’s ‘Program for Performance Enhancing Substances’, the only drug program that they actually swear by. Indeed, since ‘every player’ had at least occasionally resorted to pseudoephedrine, what was the Olympic fuss all about?
It was also reported that ‘four or five’ other members of the Swedish ice hockey team had prepared themselves for the games in a similar manner. No doubt their opponents had kept identical substances in their medical bag to stay alert on Sochi’s subtropical shores.
The point is, then, that today’s professional athletes observe an ethical code of their own, a code that appears to be irreconcilable with the World Anti-Doping Code or any other invention imposed from above.
In that sense the ‘disgraced’ Swede inadvertently made a tremendous contribution towards an athlete-centered sport ethics. His troublesome urine sample triggered a debate that ultimately exposed the fallacy that ‘the athletes themselves’ demand for draconian control measures and lifetime bans for ‘cheaters’.
Ice hockey players and other athletes are perfectly capable of formulating their own professional ethics. Whether they would end up accepting this or that medical treatment or training method is none of our business. We wouldn’t wish athletes to interfere with our professional ethics, would we?
Does their opinion matter to the powers-that-be? Is anybody listening to their genuine voice? Are athletes still not supposed to think aloud?