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Action Replay: The City and the World

At the end of April, racehorse trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni was banned for eight years after admitting that he had injected anabolic steroids into horses in his charge. This has been claimed to be the biggest doping scandal in the history of horse racing, but it also tells us a lot about the general social setting of sport.

Zarooni worked for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. Godolphin, the sheik’s enormous racing and breeding concern, has enjoyed great success in winning top races. But it’s not just a matter of an expensive hobby or a money-making enterprise. Dubai presents itself as a modern city, built on ‘a foundation of innovation and uninhibited achievement.’ And ‘Godolphin, in encapsulating those same values, exemplifies Dubai and plays a meaningful role in representing the Emirate to the world’ (godolphin.com/about-us/about-godolphin/). So it is a gigantic PR exercise, one that could do without the nasty associations of this scandal. Just as it could do without publicity about the impoverished immigrants who build the skyscrapers and work as domestic servants to the Maktoums and their relations.

The doping scandal also reveals a great deal about how the globalisation of production and distribution under modern capitalism has affected sport. Most Godolphin horses are trained in Newmarket, but many of them spend the winter back in Dubai, enjoying the warmer climate there. This, however, may have been the source of Zarooni’s problems, since anabolic steroids are allowed to be used in Dubai, as long as they are no longer in a horse’s system by the time it races. In the UK, though, they are prohibited completely. This sort of thing has created problems in the past – in 2009 even one of the queen’s horses was found to have raced with a drug (not steroids) that had not cleared its system in time.

Global capitalism sometimes has problems with differing regulations in different countries, so truly global corporations have to make sure that they fit in with whatever rules apply where they want to manufacture or trade. Ah, the trials of being a multinational company …