So, in order to chase up the fathers (and in a few rare cases, the mothers) who may be dodging their responsibility for paying child support… WINZ is evidently willing to blackmail the parent who is doing the actual caring, and thereby push the child concerned further into poverty. Reportedly, beneficiary parents who refuse to disclose the intimate details of their child’s conception (to a case manager in an open plan WINZ office) stand to have their benefits substantially docked.
So much for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that New Zealand signed, where we pledged that the wellbeing of the child would always be paramount. Scaring up a bit more money from absent partners is obviously far more important to the likes of Social Development Minister Anne Tolley than ensuring that the child concerned is not further disadvantaged. (Remember all the P.R. stuff a few weeks ago about the government’s concern for “Vulnerable Children”?)
Rather than resort to the sort of standover tactics you’d normally expect from Tony Soprano, WINZ needs to acknowledge the risks of retaliation to which the mother may be exposed if she publicly fingers the family member or rapist or partner involved in the child’s conception. If a few people avoid paying their child support… well, that seems like a lesser evil than extorting compliance and/or financially punishing the parent who is actually caring for the child. At the end of the day, should officialdom be in the business of making a child suffer because of the actions and inactions of its parents? Sure, says WINZ, if it means recouping a few bucks.
Drugs in Sport
It would be Interesting to know what Maria Sharapova is thinking right now about the Russians who hacked their way into the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) website. As a result, medical information has been disclosed about the tennis playing Williams sisters and the US gymnast Simone Biles. As things currently stand, Sharapova took a legal substance – meldonium – for ten years as treatment for a chronic heart condition. The drug was finally banned by WADA only as from January 1st 2016. A few months later, Sharapova failed a test that showed the presence of meldonium, and got banned from tennis for two years. The ban is under appeal, and a decision on Sharapova’s case is due sometime next month.
Point being….Sharapova has been slammed by the likes of Andy Murray as a drug cheat. (Murray has also criticized one of Sharapova’s sponsors for continuing to be associated with her.) Yet we now learn that for the past five years, Sharapova has been facing across the net a Serena Williams who has been granted a ‘therapeutic use exemption” by WADA, and allowed to take a whole variety of banned drugs for her medical condition without anyone else being the wiser. Here’s the story:
Documents published on the Fancy Bear website appeared to show that Serena Williams had taken the restricted drugs prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisone, hydromorphone and oxycodone between 2010 and 2015, while her sister Venus had taken prednisone, prednisolone, triamcinolone and formoterol. Biles, meanwhile, was given methylphenidate for attention-deficit disorder. In all cases, however, Wada confirmed that the athletes had committed no offence because they had been granted therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) by the relevant international sports federations and national anti-doping organisations.
The New York Times also has a story on the Russian hack.
Yes, there is a difference between (a) asking for an exemption from WADA to use a drug for a medical condition, and (b) taking a drug for a medical condition without asking WADA’s permission and without filling in the appropriate forms, which BTW, are available here.
Yet at the performance level is there much difference? Reportedly, both players have genuine medical conditions, both have taken banned performance enhancing drugs for them, yet only the Russian athlete has been labeled a drug cheat and banned from the sport for two years, while the US athlete has had her drug use hidden from the public (on privacy grounds) for five years, by the agency that claims to be the champion of drug-free sport. Arguably, WADA should amend its name, because the acronym also seems to stand for World Authorised Doping Agency.
In any fair world, Sharapova should be able to claim (as part of her pending appeal) a retrospective therapeutic use exemption, once she’s filled in the right forms. (Tennis, reportedly, allows some room for retrospective classification on such matters.) By shining the spotlight on the issue of therapeutic use exemptions, the Russian hackers have done sports fans a great service. No doubt, Serena Williams has a genuine and serious health issue – and given that her exemption runs 2010-2015, one can only hope she has not had to take the likes of prednisone consistently for those entire five years. Venus Williams also deserves sympathy, and should be applauded for going public in 2011 that she suffers from the auto-immune system disease Sjogrens Syndrome.
Biles is also in an invidious position. As she says, she has been taking her ADHD medication – better known as Ritalin – since she was “a kid”. (She’s now 19.) Obviously, Ritalin has a role in enhancing focus and calming anxiety. So again, it is easy to see why Biles’ rivals may feel she could have gained an advantage from her medication, in a sport where anxiety and mental focus is a highly relevant concern. It also doesn’t help that the ADHD diagnosis within top sport has been tarnished by the rash of top baseball players in the US who have applied for the therapeutic use of Ritalin and Adderall. As a result, the rate of ADHD among US baseball players seems (suspiciously) higher than in the US population at large. Other reports, it should be said, question whether there really has been such an epidemic of ADHD exemptions in US baseball.
No-one would want athletes with genuine medical conditions to be disqualified from the top tier of competition simply because of the medications they need. On the other hand, the current situation – where some athletes are using performance enhancing drugs for legitimate reasons without the public’s knowledge – is unsatisfactory. Of late, WADA has conducted witch hunts against drug-linked athletes from some countries (eg Russia) while being comparatively tolerant about those from others (eg Kenya, the US). Now, there is evidence that WADA has also been willing to conceal the drug-enhanced performances of top US athletes taking banned substances on medical grounds.
Surely, transparency has to become the rule here. If athletes have a medical condition that requires treatment with performance enhancing substances that are denied on pain of serious penalty to their rivals, then that fact needs to be disclosed. Privacy rights have to be trumped by the needs of disclosure, given the rewards involved. After all, the public is likely to sympathise with those athletes who have transcended their illness, and succeeded regardless. But the public also deserves to know if and when such drugs (banned to everyone else) have been part of the performance mix.
Footnote : In top sport, we’re always being told how much of the edge can come down to mental attitude. Well… if you thought that athletes upgrading their bodies with dodgy stimulants was hard enough to police, what about the prospect that we’ll soon have to worry about athletes using electrical means to upgrade their minds? There is some emerging evidence that devices used to directly stimulate the motor cortex of the brain can speed up the performance feedback on repetitive training routines, as compared to a control group not using such devices. There’s a fairly balanced report on the sports potential of this electrical brain stimulation technology here.
In 2016, Hollywood’s reliance on franchises and reboots and remakes has seen some truly spectacular misfires – such as the Ben Hur remake and now a reportedly dire remake of the much loved 1960 Western movie The Magnificent Seven – itself a remake of the Kurosawa film Seven Samurai but now recognized as a classic in its own right. In the new version, the Yul Brynner character is played by Denzel Washington, and the Steve McQueen character is played by (gulp) Chris Pratt.
To get us all in the ‘way out west’ mood, here’s guitarist Al Caiola, with the hit theme from Bonanza :
And here’s the great Elmer Bernstein theme from the original Magnificent Seven movie:
Bo Diddley was a gunslinger too, and his “Travellin’ West” is also pretty chill…