|Posted on May 20, 2010 at 8:25 PM|
Over the years, different sporting bodies have evolved differently to the war against doping. Some, such as athletics and cycling, are becoming increasingly vigilant against doping in their sports. However, there has been criticism that sports such as soccer and baseball are doing nothing about the issue, and letting athletes implicated in doping walk away unpunished. An example of this was Operation Puerto – approximately 200 sportspersons were implicated in blood doping. Of these, approximately 50 were cyclists and 150 were other sportspersons, including several “high profile soccer and tennis players”. The cyclists were pursued over their involvement, with many of them getting bans, such as Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton. By contrast, not a single soccer player involved in the doping ring was named, and to this day, all remains unpunished.
Unlike individual athlete sports, such as bicycling, weight-lifting, and track and field, soccer and football are not widely associated with performance enhancing drugs. Like most high-profile team sports, football suffers more from an association with recreational drugs, the case of Diego Maradona and cocaine in 1991 being the best known of those. Football has however been criticized for not sanctioning players implicated in performance enhancing drug scandals (Stanford).
Athletes at an elite level are under immense pressure to perform well. Besides the constant media scrutiny and the highly competitive nature of the sport, players are often contractually obligated to perform well. Athlete sponsorship deals will explicitly state how many goals or runs they need to make, or how many games need to be won in representation of their brand. If an athlete falls below this mark, they run the risk of breaching this contract and losing their primary source of income. On the flipside of the argument, there is of course the culture of recreational or party drug use. This relates to depressants and hallucinogenics used by players outside the frame of competition, and while illegal, do not increase the speed, strength or ability of a player in their respective sport (Standford). This raises the question as to whether it is right to prosecute these athletes, such as Ben Cousins, under the umbrella of performance-enhancing drug detection. By comparison, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to test politicians for the use of recreational drugs, since their judgement is far more important to the national interest. Another issue is athlete addiction to painkiller medication in response to injuries sustained while competing. It’s all very well and good to wage war against the use of drugs in sport, but wouldn’t it be even more pertinent to go to the route of the problem; the very culture of the sport. After all, prevention is better than a cure (Allens).
The table above was composed out of a series of questionaries undertaken by Jay Silvester, of the physical education department of Brigham Young university, in the United States. Silvester questioned fellow competitors at the 1984 Olympic games, and what he found was alarming to say the least. As the table illustrates over 65% of athletes had either taken anabolic steroids; felt that it increased their physical and mental abilities; or would condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs if they were a coach. Even though the data is not current, the results indicate how widely acknowledged, and to some degree accepted, drug use was merely 20 years ago. As Nicole explained, serious regulations have only really been erected in the past decade. Silvester concluded that the range of steroid use he found ranged from 10mg to 100mg a day (The Age).
The use of drugs to enhance performance is considered unethical by most international sports organizations and especially the International Olympic Committee, although ethicists have argued that it is little different from the use of new materials in the construction of suits and sporting equipment, which similarly aid performance and can give competitors advantage over others. The reasons for the ban are mainly the alleged health threat of performance-enhancing drugs and the equality of opportunity for athletes (Stanford).
Historians point out that drugs have probably been used to enhance sporting performance for more than 2000 years, so it’s unlikely the problem will ever go away. Some commentators are even calling for the legalisation of such drugs so they can be dispensed, administered and monitored more closely. Others say the only way to ensure the health of our athletes is to stamp out drugs altogether. For now, performance-enhancing drugs are illegal, so athletes who use them are cheats. And, given the health risks associated with drug abuse, we can safely say that the race to beat the drug tests is a race nobody wins.