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Canada's Adam van Koeverden crosses the finish line on his way to a silver medal win in the men's K1 1000 metre final at at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Canada's Adam van Koeverden crosses the finish line on his way to a silver medal win in the men's K1 1000 metre final at at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

PEDs: An athlete’s view

You’re wrong, Cathal Kelly: It is about being clean Add to ...

I’m not an Alex Rodriguez fan. I don’t care much about baseball. I’m not an expert on performance enhancing drug use in pro or amateur sport.

But a column in The Globe and Mail Thursday has inspired me to speak out. When Globe sports columnist Cathal Kelly tweeted: “Alex Rodriguez did drugs. So would I. And so would you.” I tweeted back to say that I don’t fall into that same category, but not before I read the article. I was hoping to find something satirical, something ironic, or some kind of an admission that Kelly was being facetious.

I didn’t find any of that. All I found was a hollow attempt to justify performance-enhancing drug use in sport.

Kelly said he’d like to hear from folks who’ve faced the decision of whether to use PEDs in sport.

I’ve never considered taking drugs to enhance my performance. Not once. It’s always been an option I suppose, but not one that I’ve ever given any deliberation. Despite currently training for my fourth Olympic Games, at age 32, and nearing the end of my competitive career as a kayaker – as Kelly described Rodriguez was when he allegedly chose to go to the dark side.

Kelly’s assertion that athletes are primarily entertainers is what drew first blood for me. We are people, and competitors, and some people find that entertaining. We are not engaged in some choreographed act of packaged amusement. The argument that PED use is justified by an apparent enhancement of that entertainment value is absurd, and is the same perilous “dance-monkey” argument that justifies putting athletes directly in harm’s way for viewers’ enjoyment and prime-time stimulation. I think this applies to professional and amateur sport, a line which is becoming increasingly blurred.

Kelly makes the fairly significant assumption that most professional athletes have done PEDs. That assumption is based on his admission that, if he were in a similar position, he would choose drugs to remain at the top of his game and continue reaping the million-dollar rewards associated with a pro contract.

He compares the decision to using PEDs to telling a lie, cutting a corner or, “a compromise we make in order to smooth the path.”

If someone cheats, they only compromise one thing: their integrity. To clarify, we are talking about chronic dishonesty, when it comes to cheating. Taking drugs to enhance your performance isn’t a little white lie. It’s an egregious affront to the very foundation upon which sport is built.

We aren’t talking about an up-down-up-down cheat code in Tetris to make the blocks fall slower. This isn’t just a television show. This is an athlete’s livelihood and their reason for being. It’s inspiration for children and sports fans worldwide. Doping is akin to corporate fraud; cheating with drugs is theft. Cheaters not only steal the moment, the glory, the medals and the money, they’re stealing the hearts and admiration of millions from those that deserve it most.

The decision to cheat isn’t born out of the kind of convenience factors Kelly outlines; getting over an injury a little quicker to avoid missing games, or to stave off the effects of aging in the twilight of one’s career. The decision to cheat is on that is made out of greed and vanity. It is deception, plain and simple, by someone who is too jealous and self-righteous to accept where they belong in their sport.

If cheating is so easily justified, how far would a journalist go to achieve their goals? Is it okay to plagiarize for a Pulitzer Prize? Lie for a front page? Misquote someone for a racy exposé?

The answer is no, obviously. It’s not okay. It’s not okay because we have integrity; as athletes, as writers, as professionals and as humans. We know what is right and wrong and we try our best to act accordingly. Or at least we should.

Jerks like A-Rod and Lance Armstrong have already got away with enough. They got to be cover stories and champions and idols for the masses. All based on false pretenses. They made millions and will continue to make millions through endorsements and appearances until they’re in their cold graves. Let’s not exonerate their flagrant disregard for the rules. Let’s not say it’s okay, or that everyone does it.

Let’s call it like it is. They are cheaters, and no matter how much they won, they’ll always be losers.

Adam van Koeverden is a 15-year member of the Canadian national kayak team. He is a two-time world champion and four-time Olympic medalist, including gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

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