The culture of doping in sport

A recent article by Steve Jones was entitled, Doping Crisis: Cycling at the Crossroads. Actually, given what has been happening in the sport of Cycling since 1886 it is an understatement for anyone writing about the sport to categorise it as being at the crossroads. In many respects the sport has never really been far from where it is today. The sport has had a torrid history when it comes to doping.
Perhaps this is the reason why recent revelations indicate that the sport’s international governing body, UCI, has been spending millions in its effort to clean up its significantly tarnished image.
One of the remarkable points to note is that despite all of the negative publicity the
Sport continues to hold much interest at the international level. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that people are keen on seeing the true limits of human endurance even if the performances come with the use of drugs.
Latest revelations
In the very recent past the name of Lance Armstrong filled the air as he was once more named by a former teammate in connection with drugs. Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate and an Olympic gold medallist in Athens in 2004, has claimed that he saw Armstrong inject himself with drugs intended to enhance his performance. Among the prohibited substances he claimed that Armstrong used was erythropoietin (EPO), a genetically created drug designed originally for kidney patients but capable of enhancing stamina and endurance of an athlete. It has been used by track and field athletes as well as those involved in others ports, including cycling.
Lance Armstrong has been something of a folk hero to the world of cycling in particular and to sport in general. His achievements of the record-breaking seven victories in the gruelling annual Tour de France, was all the more remarkable given the challenge she faced with cancer.
To challenge Lance Armstrong in respect of his image as a clean cyclist is almost unforgivable in some circles. This however is precisely what Tyler Hamilton has done and he chose the popular 60 Minutes television show in the USA on Sunday 22 May 2011 to do so. Hamilton’s claim is that despite all that has been said of Armstrong’s performances the man has been cheating – a very dangerous claim.
Hamilton stated that he saw Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs during the 1999 Tour de France and again in the preparation for the next two editions of the event. Perhaps far more damaging is Hamilton’s accusation that officials of the team for which they rode, US Postal Service Racing, actually helped with accessing the drugs and advised on how to successfully avoid being detected. To support his claim Hamilton also revealed that Armstrong had informed him that he tested positive in the Tour of Switzerland (Tour de Suisse) in 2001 and that it had been covered up. Armstrong and the UCI have both vehemently denied this accusation.
The recent revelations therefore seem to widen the net of deceit in a sport that already has a sordid past and implicates many more than just the athlete.
Many believe that Hamilton has come forward with his claims at this time because of a subpoena that he received from the Los Angeles grand jury in connect with an on-going investigation into Lance Armstrong.
Hamilton is certainly no saint, or so it seems. Information seems to suggest that after having won the gold medal in Athens he tested positive for blood doping. However he was allowed to keep his medal due to problems with the B sample. In 2006 he received a two-year ban from the UCI for blood doping
Floyd Landis et al
But Tyler Hamilton is not the first former teammate to accuse Lance Armstrong of being involved in doping. Floyd Landis, caught with a positive drug test in 2006, has also raised public interest in the case of Lance Armstrong.
In August 2006 Landis received marching orders from his team, Phonak. This was as a result of a positive test for testosterone/epitestosterone levels that were considered well above the acceptable limits set by the UCI and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
Landis lost the Tour de France title one year later after investigation and was eventually handed a two-year ban.
Landis has made claims that are very similar to those recently levelled against Armstrong by Tyler Hamilton.
Information has also come to hand indicating that George Hincape, one of Armstrong’s teammates for all seven of the latter’s Tour de France victories, has apparently told the grand jury he and Armstrong used EPO and discussed the use of drugs in their sport.
While Armstrong continues to deny the claims it does appear that the number of cyclists who appear prepared to speak out today is increasing.
Interestingly there have been some deaths in the sport of cycling that many seem convinced may have results from the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Drug Culture
Some seem to think that there is a culture of drugs in the sport of cycling. One merely has to review the annual list of cyclists caught in the net of positive drug tests in any given year and it is enough to make one head spin.
Unfortunately, only the very popular cyclists who are caught make the international news. The number testing positive annually in all sports of events has increased profusely enough to warrant the heavy investment by the sport’s international governing body in its drug-testing programme.
But cycling is only one of several sports that have been plagued by the scourge of drugs.
Athletics has had and continues to have its fair share of positive drug tests. While many track and field athletes have been caught not many have been forthright in admitting to their involvement in drugs.
Former 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery never tested positive but eventually admitted to taking performance enhancing substances that virtually propelled him to international stardom.
Marion Jones, another track and field athlete, even without a positive drug test admitted to having used drugs to achieve athletic success.
The slew of athletes associated with Baseball in the USA has unearthed a sick underbelly in the professional sport that has been an American pastime for decades.
Tennis has had its fair share of drug cheats as well even though the fraternity scoffed at the accusations levelled at the sport by one-time champion, Boris Becker, who essentially declared that the sport was tainted.
Even one snowboarder has been among the drug cheats as also have been athletes in such sports as archery and shooting.
Swimming has also had its cheats through drugs.
Cricketers have not been immune to this despicable plague of performance enhancing drugs nor has football. The latter had been hesitant to expose itself to WADA’s forays to clean up sport around the world.
Weightlifters have long since been among the leading users of performance enhancing drugs alongside their bodybuilding counterparts. Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to using substances to help him to the top of his sport, bodybuilding.
In many respects therefore there seems to be a culture of drug use and abuse in the world of sport.
An analysis of the incidence of drugs in sport reveals a staggering and yet most upsetting reality. As far back as the 1880s there seems to be evidence that athletes were prepared to win by whatever means necessary. This has not changed with the establishment of the International Olympic Committee and its commitment to the propagation of positive humanistic values.
The creation of the WADA has not changed anything. Indeed the situation appears to have grown worse and the only ones not seeing this are the leaders of the organisation itself who convince themselves that they are catching-up on the drug cheats. They fail to understand the power of money and the incentive that this provides for researchers to work ever so diligently on creating new, more powerful drugs for willing athletes who see stardom here and now as the ultimate goal.
The comment by then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, towards the end of the last millennium, that consideration be given to cancelling all world records and start afresh in 2000 may well have given rise to much concern by those keeping a keen eye on drugs in sport.
Did Samaranch mean to suggest that the existing world records were contaminated by the use of performance enhancing drugs?
Was this the reason that weightlifting changed its categories and therefore wiped the slate clean to make way for new world records?
UCI, like so many other international federations have denied any involvement in collusion with athletes relative to the use of performance enhancing drugs. However this is to be as expected as the claims by athletes who have tested positive that they never knowingly took drugs to enhance their performance. Nobody is willing to admit guilt until they are at full risk of exposure. Such is the sad predicament in which we find ourselves today.
The fundamental question s really whether there was any level of collusion among leaders of sport around the world who may have had information in their possession of the widespread of drugs in their respective disciplines but chose to turn a blind eye in the interest of the sport’s image and survival in a highly competitive and greedily materialistic world.
Sport has always held interest for mankind if only because it offers the opportunity to highlight the immense physical and mental potential of the human specie. We are held in awe as we observe the establishment of new world records and marvel at the power of the individual achiever. It is always easier for us to believe that a new mark is evidence of growth and development of human potential. We hate to think that the achievement results from drugs.
The social standing, adulation and wealth that often accompany achievers in sport today fuels the readiness to accept an offer to win regardless of the consequences. They deny their use of drugs until the point where they can no longer hide. They then throw themselves at the mercy of the lovers of sport and fade into the background but only if they have been exposed. Some die with their secrets and none have ever come forward to reveal the physical, mental and social consequences of their years of performance enhancing drugs.
The sport enthusiast is left hoping that somehow, one of these days the thrust of Olympic Values Education would somehow break through, impacting the conduct of our athletes such that they would indeed help us to create a better world.