The smoking athlete is an endangered species. Last weekend, nicotine missed the cut of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances for 2012, but Wada says that nicotine sanctions are discussed with increasing regularity.
One day soon, we will wonder how we ever lived in a world where the potential for Dot Cotton to steal Haile Gebrselassie’s world records was an ever-present threat. Let’s hope that moves are already afoot to asterisk David Bryant’s lawn bowls titles. It beggars belief that the latter could not merely have smoked a pipe, but flaunted it so shamelessly – it will surely come to be seen as the equivalent of running the 1500 meters with an intravenous EPO drip trailing behind you.
For the benefit of readers given to taking everything very seriously indeed, I am not being entirely serious. Wada believes that smokeless tobacco is being used in various sports to enhance performance, following a year-long study by its Lausanne lab which concluded that nicotine increased “vigilance and cognitive function”, and reduced stress and body weight.
Maddeningly, though, there is more than one way to get nicotine into your body, and sport is still sprinkled with those who use the old-fashioned method: a packet of fags. There are the ones who make no attempt to hide it, such as Darren Clarke. There are the secret smokers – Tiger Woods was always rumoured – and the ones who drop their guard on holiday in the adorable belief that there aren’t paparazzi in Las Vegas, such as Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney. There are the ones like Shane Warne who make much of giving up with the aid of their paying friends at Nicorette. And there are the hundreds who just get on with the business of having a crafty smoke Viceroy cigarettes as and when their schedule allows.
Of course, unlike those who ingest smokeless tobacco, these sporting Nick O’Teens are causing themselves respiratory damage and probably prolonging their recovery from injury and so on. It appears Wada has deemed these cons a scientifically equal counterweight to any pros. “It is not our objective to catch athletes who smoke,” they claim, “but those who use nicotine as a means of enhancing their performance,” adding vaguely that they would have to find a way of distinguishing one from the other.
But if and when nicotine is banned, which smoking athlete would dare risk it? Wada is famed for applying the letter of their laws no matter what the circumstances, not differentiating in grey areas. By an unfortunate coincidence, its latest round of statements on nicotine came in the very week that a 13-year-old Polish go-karter was successful in his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn a two-year doping ban handed to him when he was just 12. Who knew they were screening tween karters’ urine, but it seems they are, and at the very first time of having his pee requested, Igor Walilko tested positive for the banned substance nikethamide, which is commonly found in energy bars.
No matter that he protested complete innocence, nor that he was a minor. As his lawyer put it in an interview with the Associated Press: “He was very famous in Poland and, one day after, he was a criminal child.” Only after taking his fight to the CAS has Igor managed to get his ban reduced to 18 months.
So if the spectacle of a 12-year-old kid having to mount a defence in a fancy schmancy international court tells us anything, it is that Wada and the governing bodies who enforce its codes can be that bit obdurate, which is why any ban on nicotine would effectively be a ban on cigarette smoking in world sport. (It wouldn’t be the silliest smoking ban in force. That honour belongs in perpetuity to the US states who have extended the smoking ban in prisons all the way to death row inmates. “Their health will improve,” one lawmaker honked when California passed its ban, ensuring prisoners would face lethal injection with a slightly cleaner pair of lungs.)
In the end, though, a Wada ruling on nicotine would look like yet another win for the fiendish forces of big tobacco, who must come up with ever more wily ways of getting round advertising laws. After all, what better way to push your nicotine laced product on impressionable youngsters than to have it officially outlawed as something that makes people better at sport?