In April, USA Cycling asked University of Stirling academic Dr. Paul Dimeo to chair its Anti-Doping Committee, a new advisory board set up to support USA Cycling it is efforts to “reduce banned doping practices within amateur and professional cycling in America.”
This week, USA Cycling asked Dimeo to step down, after comments made to the London Times suggesting that the use of erythropoietin (EPO) could be used safely to boost athletes’ recovery and performance.
Dimeo, a senior lecturer at the University of Stirling, and author of A History of Drug Use in Sport: 1876-1976, told the Times in a May 27 article that many regulations set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) are outdated and ineffective.
“What made sense [in the 20th century] is no longer viable, practically or idealistically,” Dimeo told the Times. “We now live in a world of technology, commerce and performance, where drugs could be safely used for recovery and performance if only the rules were relaxed. Of course, people will react with dismay. But it is time that we had a proper 21st-century debate on the issue, rather than sticking to what was set in stone almost 60 years ago.”
In the interview, Dimeo suggested that EPO could be used to aid recovery, citing studies which state that low doses of EPO improve cardiac function, and also questioned the banned use of blood transfusions, which boost oxygen-carrying capacity.
“It’s safe, of course, because it happens all the time in hospitals,” Dimeo said of blood transfusions. “They would help recovery between the stages of a bike race or rounds of a tennis tournament. “What is the harm if we know there is a doctor on hand, that everything is clean and sterilized and the blood comes from the right place? People will say it’s cheating, because not everybody can get access to that, but that’s not the same as saying it’s harmful.”
On Thursday, USA Cycling announced that Dimeo would no longer be part of its Anti-Doping Committee, saying, “his recent comments advocating the legalization of certain doping practices made it clear that he does not share our fundamental views regarding eliminating doping from sport through the rigorous application of well-established anti-doping efforts.”
On Friday, Dimeo took to Twitter, challenging USA Cycling’s statement, writing, “I’ve never advocated legalization, just raised relevant questions.”
Thanks for all the messages. Here is our discussion of anti-doping in US cycling and its challenges https://t.co/oUvLrY0UZy
— Paul Dimeo (@pauldimeo2) June 3, 2016
Professor Roger Pielke, who teaches Sports Governance at the University of Colorado, Boulder, believes this was the wrong move for USA Cycling.
In an open letter to the federation, written before USA Cycling’s announcement, Pielke maintains that advisors are simply that — put in place to advise, and offer diverse opinions — and that USA Cycling should be able to make its own decisions after taking all viewpoints into account.
“Part of what we academics do is make people uncomfortable by floating ideas and proposals that some may be uncomfortable with,” Pielke wrote. “That is okay, as every so often we hit onto worthwhile proposals. Oftentimes, we don’t (and are just ignored or laughed at) and that is okay, too.
“Sports bodies have struggled mightily in recent years with soliciting and receiving independent expert advice,” he continued. “You have a significant opportunity here to show the world how it should be done by offering strong backing for Paul. His views may not be yours, or those of some others on the committee or your sponsors, stakeholders, and engaged public — and that is fine. This issue of doping in sport is complex and disagreement is healthy.”
Dimeo is not alone in his views. In 2014, Oxford professor Julian Savulescu told CyclingTips that allowing some forms of doping would level the playing field and put resources to better use. Substances that occur naturally in the body, such as EPO, would be allowed, Savulescu argued, so long as they are used within healthy limits.
In his Times interview, Dimeo stated “There is a potential for the reconsideration of some drugs and that’s a debate we need to have.”
The full statement, from USA Cycling, dated June 2, 2016:
“USA Cycling announced Thursday that Dr. Paul Dimeo will no longer participate on the recently formed USA Cycling Anti-Doping Committee after public comments made last week in the London Times challenging whether performance enhancing methods like blood doping and the use of EPO should be banned. USA Cycling concluded those views contradict USA Cycling’s position and could undermine the clear objectives of the Anti-Doping Committee.
The Committee, which was formed earlier this year, has the stated purpose: “The new Anti-Doping Committee will be comprised of experts who will help USA Cycling determine how it can best reduce banned doping practices within amateur and professional cycling in America. The committee’s focus will be to determine the optimal level of testing to cost effectively create a credible deterrent, recommend what other actions USA Cycling can take to reduce doping (e.g., education), and evaluate the effectiveness of USA Cycling’s anti-doping efforts over time.”
USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall said, “While we welcome dissenting opinion within our committee, the conversation must focus on the problem at hand: how to eliminate doping from American cycling. We fully respect Dr. Dimeo’s right to challenge the system and as an academic, it is important that he does. We in fact knew he often challenged the status quo. But his recent comments advocating the legalization of certain doping practices made it clear that he does not share our fundamental views regarding eliminating doping from sport through the rigorous application of well-established anti-doping efforts.
“We are thankful for the contributions he has made to our organization in the past, both from his research last year which helped us identify the extent of amateur doping in American cycling and his help in forming the committee.”