Shouts From The Stands: Holding Separate Competitions For TUE Athletes

by SwimSwam Contributors 9

February 16th, 2017 Lifestyle, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Brad Cooper

Talk of separate races for TUE (therapeutic use exemption) athletes is not new.

Proponents of the move usually argue that TUEs actively discriminate against “pristine clean,” healthy athletes. They claim TUE users not only have their condition alleviated, but also get to dope, while their unmedicated opponents are limited to the natural biochemical enhancements of their training efforts.

TUE critics maintain that TUEs are an intolerably blunt instrument of redress, and the belief that they offer a performance and moral equivalency of normal competition is simplistic.

If their positions are valid, then it is also appropriate to suggest TUEs are an attempt to “re-narratise” athletes lives and circumstances under the banner of inclusiveness. After all, sport is supposed to teach us to do our best with the cards we are dealt.

The German social philosopher Jurgen Habermas has warned of the dangers of diminished responsibility when people try to re-present themselves via self-enhancement through drugs, surgery or other means. The great Australian concert pianist Simon Tedeschi also made a public “mea culpa” when he recently apologised for years of taking beta-blockers to optimise his playing skills. All along, he claimed, he had justified his use of beta blockers by viewing his pre-concert anxiety as a medical condition, rather than a valid challenge of his craft.

Of course, many TUEs are issued for more pressing issues than performance anxiety. Some athletes claim that they cannot function socially or physically without 24/7 TUE prescriptions to address chronic conditions. Others claim their lives or long term health might be risked by training or racing without a TUE. Still others may be recovering from injury, or treating a sudden health “crisis.”

Advocates of separate TUE competition do not see an increasing variety of TUE justifications as a challenge to the concept. Rather, they see it as an even more pressing reason for change, and that the concept should not be regarded as an attempt to diminish the achievement or status of the TUE user.

The growing problem of disingenuous TUE applications (and their occasional granting) is more reason for healthy athletes to be increasingly restive about the existing situation. British Olympic gold medallists Bradley Wiggins (cycling) and Mo Farrah (track running) have both been accused of dubiousTUE use.

And Australian academic researcher Bradley Partridge has complained that the secrecy surrounding the granting of TUEs by ASDMAC (Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee) “raises suspicions.”

This is a serious charge against a statutory government funded body in a nation priding itself on clean competition.

Whether separate competition for TUE athletes becomes a real consideration in an increasingly complex competitive environment will be fascinating to watch. The more input, the better.

Brad Cooper is the 1972 Munich Olympic gold medalist in the 400m freestyle. For several years, Cooper was a journalist and has run his own swim school for 20 years. Drugs in sport are a special interest for Cooper. The more discussion, the better.

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Steve Nolan

Hm, never thought of that. I kinda like it, but seems there’ll still be issues defining substances acceptable for therapeutic use and what’s performance enhancing. (Because even now, it’s still plenty messy – see: meldonium.)

I still think we just make everything legal.


What will you say when sports get to the point that horse racing is at and athletes are regularly dying on the field or in the pool? Just because some people are willing to risk their health for performance enhancement doesn’t mean everyone must in order to compete at a high level.

Steve Nolan

Eh, well then if this already supposes a second “TUE” set of competitions, why not just make an “anything-goes” one? Free markets, baby! The American ideal!

(I think that allowing a lot of the currently banned substances to be studied in more depth will in turn make them safer. Current system seems pretty dangerous to me, too.)

Prior to the big anti-doping push as of recent, athletes were totally fine with killin’ themselves to win. (Link!)


So who really wants to race Kathleen Baker or Siobhan-Marie O’Connor in the ‘digestive tract from hell’ TUE sub-category? They’re the first two that come to mind that cannot compete without a TUE because they cannot function as human beings without the drugs necessary to control a bad Crohn’s/IBD flare-up.


I would bet a lot of money that their is a ton of abuse going on in this area.

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