Johnny Nic on the moral superiority that anti-doping testing assigns to itself

Serena Williams frustrated

Have you any idea what hydrochlorothiazide is or what it does?

Here’s the science: Hydrochlorothiazide is a thiazide diuretic (water pill) that helps prevent your body from absorbing too much salt, which can cause fluid retention. It is used to treat high blood pressure and other conditions. It is designed to help eliminate the excessive fluid accumulation and swelling that’s often caused by congestive heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, chronic kidney failure, corticosteroid medications and nephrotic syndrome.

It is also an ingredient in something often called ‘fat burners,’ where it aids weight loss by making you pass water a lot.

When it comes to rugby, hydrochlorothiazide is “illegal” and was found in Wasps forward Ashley Johnson’s urine, for which he was given a six-month ban from the game. He had this backdated at a hearing conducted by the independent national anti-doping panel, because he said he’d mistakenly took his wife’s fat burner called ‘the Secret’ rather than his own supplement ‘Nutrilean’ which isn’t on the banned list and claims to “promote lean body mass, fat loss and weight loss.”

Ashley Johnson on the sidelines
Ashley Johnson on the sidelines

So as far as the drug testing obsessives are concerned, it’s OK to rev yourself up with stimulants which in turn suppress your appetite and allow you to work out harder and thus lose weight – which seems to be what Nutrilean does – but you’re not allowed to take something which will make you want to void your bladder a lot.


Where is the sense in any of this?

Earlier this year I wrote about my opposition to the whole anti-doping nonsense that infects all sports, arguing that if it’s legal, you should be able to put whatever you wish into your body, whenever you wish to do so and that preparing your body for competition in any way you deem suitable for you, is as much part of the art of the sport as anything else.

Johnson’s situation is a perfect illustration of the absolute nonsensical state we’ve got into over drugs, dope, sport and what is and isn’t cheating. Let’s get this right, Johnson wasn’t in any way whatsoever cheating but according to the anti-doping dopes, he was. It’s insane.

Johnson himself seems understandably confused, saying “drug use is not something I would ever condone, and from now on I will be extra vigilant at all times.” But you did take drugs, sir. Nutriliean contains Citrus Auranthium Whole Herb Power, Caffeine, Pantothenic Acid (as Calcium Pantothenate), Cayenne (Capsicum), Green Coffee Extract, Green Tea Extract, N-Acetyl L Carnitine Hydrochloride, Zinc (as Citrate Dihydrate), Niacin (as Nicotinic Acid), Black Pepper Extract as Bioperine®.

A drug is defined in the dictionary as a “medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”

Thus all of those ingredients are drugs. They will have a physiological effect on your body.

By any definition, the wholly legal Nutrilean supplement is doping. It is taking stuff to make you perform better, so why is it legal?

Meanwhile over in tennis, Serena Williams is being tested time and again, which she rightly considers to be some form of discrimination. What exactly are these self-important officious doping testers trying to discover? Are they unable to believe she can be so good and be ‘clean?’

Serena Williams frustrated

Are they trying to create some sort of scandal or make a name for themselves? Given how easy it is to fall foul of anti-doping rules, as Johnson found out in rugby, if you keep on and on and on testing Williams, or anyone else, eventually you’ll find something that was accidentally consumed, or was unlisted in the ingredients of a legal supplement.

Dr. Stuart Miller, manager for the International Tennis Federation’s London-based anti-doping program, recently told ESPN: “Across the sporting world, the top athletes are always going to be tested more than lower-ranked athletes, that’s just the nature of the beast.”

What? Hold on there Stewie, don’t tell us to accept your totally unjustified assumption about the nature of your so-called beast. No. You’re wrong. The idea, from your point of view, in case you’ve forgotten, is to catch what you call cheats. End of story. It isn’t to catch successful players cheating. It’s to catch anyone. So why test ‘top’ people more? Does that mean if you’re not very good, you can take drugs with relative impunity? Is being really good at your sport a marker for being a doper? It would seem so. Be any good and they will suspect you of cheating.

This is where we’re at now.

Even the people running the show are messed up in their heads about it all. It gets worse. Miller goes on. “So, while it’s a shame if people get frustrated by the process, the intention of any anti-doping organization is to protect the integrity of the sport, the health of the players and their right to clean competition.”


OK let’s take those in reverse order. ‘Clean’ is an almost meaningless term. As we’ve seen, you’re allowed to take ‘drugs.’ No-one is ‘clean’ of ‘drugs.’ As regards health of the players – well they’re highly trained athletes with highly trained coaches, they know more about health than any anti-doping official. And finally what does integrity mean here? It just means competitors are all on drugs that are on one list rather than an another. Nothing more. And when the very concept of the list is discredited, it makes it meaningless.

Possibly the worst aspect of the whole doping business is the moral superiority that anti-doping testing assigns to itself and the way people like Johnson have to play nice, then bow and scrape to them, to say sorry and be apologetic for his mistake, as the anti-dopers look down their noses and pass judgement from on high.

Miller’s words were bad enough but look at the words of Stephen Watkins, RFU anti-doping and illicit drugs programme manager, talking about the Wasps man. “He was careless in his failure to acknowledge his responsibilities as a rugby player and ensure he was dutiful in checking what he consumed,” Watkins said.

Such snooty superior entitlement dripping from every word. Like he’s the headmaster and the athlete a naughty schoolboy. These sound like the words of someone who is getting off on his power.

All this has succeeded in doing is to cast sports men and women’s lives into a constant state of paranoia. It’s your body. You should be able to do what you want with it, within the limits of the laws of the country.

And all of this rigmarole is in pursuit of what, exactly? Anti-doping has become more and more oppressive, more and more intrusive and so very, very, very self important.

It’s time to kneel on the throat of this anti-doping industry and call it out for being the badly thought-out, self-important, intellectually and morally bankrupt regime that it really is.

It’s just a bunch of unchallenged assumptions that have become hardened into a dogma and everyone is afraid to challenge the orthodoxy, for fear of seeming like they’re in some way, dishonest.

We need to grow up and release our sports men and women from this drug testing tyranny.

Follow John Nicholson on Twitter @JohnnyTheNic