When Team Sweden finished off a 3-0 loss to Team Canada in the Gold Medal game of the men’s hockey tournament at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, it had appeared that all of their big guns had gone missing. Unfortunately, star center Nicklas Backstrom was actually missing for the entire game after being suspended shortly before the beginning of the pregame skate because of a positive test for a banned substance. That substance happened to be Claritin Clear, or the allergy medicine that your grandma takes when she gets a stuffy nose every spring.
If is this suspension seems a little ridiculous, it is because it certainly is, and it should certainly lead to the International Olympic Committee re-evaluating their doping policy.
While there is no doubting the legitimacy of ensuring that athletes in every sport are not given an advantage over their competitors, one must ask how exactly Claritin Clear is useful in enhancing performance. Sure, it will heal a stuffy nose, so I suppose that the forces that be could label it a health enhancing substance. But in terms of tying it into some other sort of steroid use, there is no way to label this other than the IOC saying that no athletes can be trusted, so if an athlete uses cold medicine, it must be because they are attempting to cheat the system.
It is not as if only allergy medicines are on the banned substance list either; the hockey tournament is specifically left in a sore position because of the fact that players are not able to receive the anti-inflammatory drugs and other shots that are common after players receive nasty hits and block 100 mph shots. While banning the use of performance enhancing drugs is designed to level the playing field, ignoring some parts of science that help heal players’ wounded bodies is as much of a disservice to the fans at home and the Olympic athletes who are supposed to be protected.
When it comes to other athletes who don’t have million dollar gigs to go back to in the NHL, missing out on a chance to win a gold medal is can be extremely detrimental to both short and long-term monetary prospects. This is because athletes can be suspended for two years because of just one failed test, which also holds true in international events that competitors in events such as skiing, snowboarding and track and field rely upon to gain sponsorship and exposure that help them gain entry into future Olympics.
That a person’s livelihood and athletic achievements can be brought down because they used an antibiotic is an absolute joke, and it is time for the IOC to look itself in the mirror and make a change. In order to do this, they should first start by admitting that not all athletes are looking to cheat the system, and that they do get a stuffy nose every now and then.