Another Iditarod scandal: PED’s have made their way to sled dog racing
By Patrick Cullen
Should the race continue?
In 2003, the American company BALCO, standing for Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, was accused of developing a new steroid that was undetectable by modern testing and providing it to Major League Baseball players in a scandal that rocked the sports world. In 2013, Lance Armstrong, famed Tour de France cyclist and the cancer-conquering face behind the Livestrong brand admitted his personal PED use to Oprah, after more than a decade of denial. Most recently, more than 150 members of Russia’s Olympic team were banned from competition by the International Olympic Committee after widespread steroid use by the team was revealed.
It appears now that illicit drug use has made its way to dog racing, rearing its ugly head in the sport’s most famed event, and a race called the “Last Great Race on Earth:” Alaska’s Iditarod.
The accused musher is Dallas Seavey, a four-time winner of the Iditarod and one of dog racing’s most accomplished team leaders. He finished second in this year’s running to his father, Mitch Seavey, after he won the previous three. His father is another accomplished musher and the two have battled in races over the years. Following the conclusion of this year’s Iditarod, the committee released a statement saying that four dogs on a team had tested positive for the opioid painkiller, Tramadol, a powerful drug similar to Oxycontin. Shortly after, in response to pressure from the sport’s following, they revealed that it had been four of Dallas Seavey’s dogs.
As one of the sport’s premier mushers, Seavey’s status made the revelation even more alarming.
Seavey reacted quickly, releasing an 18 minute monologue on YouTube in response to the positive test. He adamantly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that his dogs must have been drugged. He called for increased security at checkpoints and along the race’s 1,000 mile route. Most notably, he announced his withdrawal from next year’s race, “in protest” as he said. Seavey will not be suspended for the positive test as it cannot be proved that he administered the drug to his dogs but this statement may have still been preemptive as he said later that he expects to be banned under the sports “gag rule,” which prohibits mushers or affiliates of the Iditarod from making any remarks that go against the best interest of the sport. Seavey certainly broke this rule as he simultaneously bashed the sport and its ruling committee as he defended his name.
In support of Seavey, fellow mushers from the Iditarod’s tight-knit community defended him, many saying they seriously doubted that it had been Seavey who gave the drugs to his dog.
This is the first time since testing began in 1994 that dogs have tested positive for any banned substance.
It may be an indication that the sport is getting more competitive and Seavey was in fact attempting to gain an edge, akin to Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, by doping the dogs. As he lost to his father, it may have been a desperate attempt to emerge victorious in what is obviously a competitive family rivalry. Tramadol, after all, would’ve numbed his dogs who must have been exhausted and achey at the end of the long, demanding race. Or, it could be a sign of something more underhanded.
As one musher pointed to, PETA and other animal rights groups have long been against the Iditarod. These protests have become more outspoken as last year, five dogs died in connection to the race, and another was killed the year before that. Seavey himself called the presence of drugs in a his dogs’ systems “sabotage” and while it was never said outright, one of the mushers who spoke out in Seavey’s defense hinted that this positive test may be the result of animal rights activists who have radicalized. Whatever the case is, the truth has yet to become clear and might not ever, however it is definitely not a good look for the historic sport as it tries to maintain it’s significance, legitimacy, and support.