One may well be tempted to see here a parallel with the disastrous war on drugs in the United States. Illegal drugs are a sticky concept and we can see all kinds of metaphoric and real links between the two. Yet it is precisely the advantage of foregrounding techniques of governing that we can suspend the often false unity of a field like illegal narcotics. In important ways doping in sport differs from other kinds of illegal drug markets. Here are several observations that support my sense that it is quite appropriate for Spain (and other countries) to upgrade the criminalizing of illegal doping in sport, while we used waste little time in decriminalizing and even legalizing most other kinds of illegal drug use and distribution.
- While the case for criminalizing drug users relies on vague social impacts of drug lifestyles, doping in sport represents a rather focused and profitable form of fraud, allowing those willing to do it the ability of some to claim an illicit advantage over those who accept the constraints of the rules.
- While the impact of most recreational drug use is longterm and likely to be manageable by many other kinds of governance strategies, the nature of competitive sport as a field makes the worth of the whole enterprise vulnerable in relatively short time frames to the misconduct of a few.
- While the war on drugs has required a massive proactive law enforcement apparatus to create deterrence (and whether it has created any at all is questionable) sport doping will involve focused investigations of readily identifiable (and thus deterrable) individuals who can compelled to provide biological information for forensic analysis.
- While the war on drugs has produced mass imprisonment, especially concentrated on minority populations, punishment for illegal sport doping could consist of massive fines coupled with permanent or limited exclusion from professional sport; sanctions with far less social collateral damage than prisons bring.
These seem to me good reasons to consider a greater role for crime in the governance of sport doping. This is especially true where there is a history of failed efforts at self regulation. If so it may suggest a new role for criminal justice in a society that no longer relies on mass imprisonment it for routine governance. Criminal justice might be sought not as kind of action for those who lack security carried out against those with even less security, but instead as a kind of knowledge, valuable precisely to those communities most threatened by the corrupting effects of imperfect knowledge.