Stop the Boffins Before they Modafinil a Mule or Let Rats Enter the Olympics

Tomas Thorne

Last Updated: February 2, 2023

Modafinil Review

The dangers and opportunities in sport
for the appliance of science
Harry Pearson

I have never been one for conspiracy theories, but these days I find it hard to shake off a feeling that the world’s scientists are working overtime to destroy sport. Their motivation can only be guessed at. Probably all those occasions they were sitting in the school chemistry lab learning the periodic table, only for some hearty fellow from the first XV to sneak up and set fire to their trousers with a Bunsen burner, have nurtured a subconscious desire for revenge.
The boffins have cunningly avoided the obvious method of retribution (establishing a secret base on a desert island populated entirely by men in white lab coats and women in orange terry-towelling bikinis building a gigantic ray-gun that harnesses the power of the earth’s molten core) and instead have concentrated on something even more devilish – every 24 hours they invent a new drug designed to tempt sports people into cheating.

And sports people are easily tempted. This is not because they have lower moral standards than the rest of society (for hand on heart who among us can honestly say we would not fall to the floor clutching our faces if we thought it would get a workplace rival dismissed?). No, it is because human beings have only finite amounts of willpower and sports people use all theirs in forcing themselves to crash through the pain threshold and do 20 more chin-ups, 10 more minutes on the rowing machine or one more trackside interview with Sally Gunnell.

And all the while, thanks to scientists, the number of temptations on offer increases. This week, for example, it was announced that geneticists at the University of Pennsylvania have used gene transplants to double the strength of rats.

Initially this seemed like a fantastic bit of news to me. This is because it would presumably mean that the rats currently ripping up the insulation in my loft would get through the job twice as quickly, thus halving the time I have to lie in bed at night worrying that at some point one will gnaw its way right through the plasterboard and fall into my mouth.

It quickly became obvious, however, that the substance known as IGF-1 will not be used predominantly for the good of mankind, but like amphetamines, ephedrine, clenbuterol, EPO, modafinil and the rest will instead be pumped into anything that relies on speed or strength to win prizes. Soon we will be looking at lock forwards with the power of traction engines and racing pigeons that leave a vapour trail. Sport’s credibility will be scattered like confetti before the bellows.

“We let the genie out of the bottle in the 60s and 70s,” Dick Pound of the World Anti-Doping Agency said, “and now we are trying to catch up.” If the genie is doing some of the stuff the athletes are, Pound would be advised to invest in a rocket-propelled car.

In fact he may need several, because on the same day that the high-powered rodents were unveiled newspapers also ran photos of three cloned mules that have been produced at the behest of the American mule-racing enthusiast Don Jacklin.

Jacklin proclaimed himself to be “so excited I am in the sky”. It’s possible, of course, he was thrown there by rats.

The scientists who made the mules say that for $200,000 (little more than £100,000 right now) they will happily clone a racehorse. This would be an obvious solution to the Rock Of Gibraltar dispute were it not for the fact that the notoriously forward-thinking Jockey Club sensibly banned cloned animals or their offspring from competing in races a while back.

“Mass-produced horses would cripple the whole industry,” said the club’s John Maxse last year. Maxse was clearly envisaging a nightmare scenario in which the average British family might pop into the local supermarket and load up their trolley with four Arkles, half a dozen Desert Orchids and a box of sugar lumps and pay with the points on their loyalty card.

There is some reason to feel that Maxse is being blinkered on this point. After all, the motorcycle industry has been revitalised by the Superbike series. The public love it because they can actually buy and ride the same machines as Carl Fogarty, Neil Hodgson and co. I imagine equestrian enthusiasts might get a similar thrill from being able to take a spin on something they’ve just watched Tony McCoy riding at Cheltenham.

I visualise great gangs of horsie types forming up on a phalanx of Red Rums every Sunday and galloping all over the Pennines or Peak district, perhaps stopping once in a while at a cafe where they can taunt rival groups with the words “See you’re all on Istabraqs then. Nice horse – if you’re a girl.”

Sadly the effect on other sports that have not regulated against competing clones won’t be so welcome. As Jack Knightley, spokesman for the British Show Jumping Association, commented: “This could make our sport as boring as formula one motor racing”.

Yes, it really is that serious. And if it happens you can bet that the only people laughing will be the scientists. Let’s round them up before it’s too late and let the rats have a piece of them.


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