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A quack heard around the world

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Medical involvement in sport and training should not focus only on the elite athlete

Iused to be a rusted-on Essendon Football Club supporter. Now I am witnessing the spectacle of the club falling apart under the weight of its own hubris.1 Despite attempts to control the dark side of human achievement, as epitomised by the Olympic motto of citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger), the slogan that Essendon produced at the start of the season — “Whatever it takes” — is probably the vulgar form of that motto.

From a parochial activity graced by extraordinarily gifted performers, where amateurs could become world champions, sport is now a globalised industry. Gifted performers still exist, but now so does the temptation of using whatever genetic, physiological and chemical products scientists can provide, and of delving into the realms of quackery to improve performance. Some products work, some do not. Those that do have four possible outcomes: an improvement in fitness without side effects; a short-term improvement in fitness but with longer-term side effects; no change; or an impairment in fitness, even to the extent of poisoning the sportsperson.

A raft of other participants have…