A SCOTS academic who advises the US governing body of cycling says sports chiefs should consider allowing performance enhancing drugs.
Dr Paul Dimeo is a senior lecturer in sport studies at the University of Stirling, also chairing the USA Cycling Anti-Doping Committee.
In the past all sports governing bodies have had a strict “zero tolerance” policy towards so-called “doping” in competitions.
But now Dr Dimeo has said that the “war on drugs in sport” is ineffectual, out of date and may do more harm than good – and has called for the “zero tolerance” approach to be questioned.
He has even said that erythropoietin (EPO) – the drug famously used by Lance Armstrong – might be safely used to boost the recovery and performance of athletes.
Cyclists and tennis players should be allowed to use non-medical blood transfusions – a currently banned procedure that lets them supercharge their blood with oxygen, according to the expert.
He said that the rules enforced by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and the International Olympic Committee were products of the 60s.
He explained: “What made sense then is no longer viable, practically or idealistically.”
“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.
He has said that EPO could have medical and sporting benefits if it is used correctly.
He added: “There are some studies which state that low doses of EPO improve cardiac function. A whole generation of cyclists used a lot of EPO and they have survived to tell the tale.
“If we understood the dosages and the timing of dosages then maybe it would be relatively safe.
“Would an athlete mind taking a small amount of a drug that has been trialled and medically approved?”
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times – strenuously denying any use of performance enhancing drugs.
But he was stripped of his titles in 2012 after confessing to the use of EPO, testosterone, blood doping and human growth hormone.
Dr Dimeo has suggested that blood transfusions could be among the first of the previously banned procedures to be allowed.
He said: “It’s safe, of course, because it happens all the time in hospitals. 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 sterilised 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.
“We’ve been brought up to believe that Ben Johnson was a cheat, that Lance Armstrong was a cheat and that many of the Russians are cheats.
“If that’s the argument that’s officially presented then, of course, it’s difficult to challenge that.
“There has to be some kind of control, but it should take a middle ground between making a big deal over relatively harmless drugs – and punishing people who have done relatively little wrong – and catching organised, systematic cheats.
“There is a potential for the reconsideration of some drugs and that’s a debate we need to have.”
A spokesman for Sport Scotland said: “We fully support Wada’s vision for a world where athletes can compete in a doping-free sporting environment.
“We do not agree that the use of EPO and blood transfusions should be allowed in sport and unreservedly condemn the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”