The drug wars continue in sport
We are in the year 2012 and the single biggest sporting event is the London Olympics. One of the biggest concerns in the world of sport today is the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs by athletes in just about every discipline. It seems that the desire to win at all costs is the single most important fact driving sportspeople to performance enhancing drugs today and the deleterious effects as highlighted by scientists have little impact on the spread of this unsavoury practice.
There are some who would suggest that the use of performance enhancing drugs to get the competitive edge dates back to the Olympics of Antiquity. Others seem to suggest that it started much later. The fact is however that athletes have seen competition as an access route to fame and fortune. This is seen as justification enough for some to turn to any means that would give them the edge over their fellow competitors.
For many years the world watched as athletes from around the world topped the performances of their predecessors. In some cases the changes were simply astounding, truly incredible. But there was little by way of proof.
When East German athletes began to dominate track and field athletics in particular the argument was that the country’s leadership had deliberately selected a few sports at which it pumped huge resources to achieve success. The argument also suggested that given that it was a social nation it was necessary to do like the Soviet Union and Cuba and prove that the ideological differences facilitated greater emphasis on sport as a means of developing its people.
Once the Berlin wall was brought down and the old East German nation joined the West and became part of one Germany there were startling revelations about the truth of the former country’s sporting excellence. It was based on a systematic programme of early talent identification, extensive training and drug use through to elite status.
The names of athletes, coaches and physicians emerged from Germany and it was alleged that during the Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, in 1976, there was a ship in the St Laurence river that supplied the German athletes with the drugs needed to perform at peak level in their respective events. It was also alleged that following the conclusion of the Games the materials used were dumped in the river.
In the case of Germany it was clear that the practice of performance enhancing drugs was supported and encouraged by the government. They saw nothing wrong.
Before seeing the drug use in sport as a socialist phenomenon it must be noted that the USA has had it fair share of this practice as well.
Ben Johnson et al
In 1998 the track and field world received the shock revelation that the winner of the 100m at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Ben Johnson, tested positive and was disqualified and elected from the Games. At the time the American athletes decried the use of banned substances by athletes and the extent to which sport was being brought into disrepute by the actions of a few who insisted on cheating.
CBC Sports Online dated 19 January 2003 revealed a quote from former world and Olympic champion, Carl Lewis, There is no commitment to stopping the drug problem… People know the sport is dirty, the sport is so driven by records.
It was in 2003 however, that the former head of the Unites States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) drug testing programme, Wade Exum, delivered 30,000 pages of documents in which he noted that Carl Lewis was among the athletes who tested positive for banned substances prior to the Seoul Olympics but was still allowed to participate and win Olympic medals. Indeed Exum ‘s information suggested that there were three such instances in respect of US athletes and the Seoul Olympics.
According to Exum therefore the USOC was engaged in a deliberate cover up of the use of performance enhancing drugs by its own athletes who continued to take the moral high road in the matter of drug cheats in sport. This was a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Exum’s documentation also revealed that over 100 US athletes in different sports tested positive between 1988 and 2000 yet their cases were not revealed.
The sport of cycling has been hit hard by continuing revelations of the extensive use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists over the years.
Many sports enthusiasts have often wondered about the capacity of cyclists, regardless of their training regimen, to contest the annual Tour de France spread over three weeks with two rest days. To win this event in any given year is remarkable. To win it several times, especially consecutively, requires near-superhuman effort.
Alas! It has been discovered that this particular event has been a major feature on the global listing of users of performance enhancing drugs by participants.
Evidence suggests that in the 1960s amphetamines and alcohol were popular and at least one cyclist lost his life going down that path.
Doubt has since followed the sport of cycling and in particular the Tour de France.
In 1998 officials found a vehicle full of performance enhancing drugs. The vehicle was part of the Festina cycling team. Investigations led to the revelations that six of the team’s members admitted using banned substances in order to gain a competitive edge over rivals in the prestigious event. Other embarrassing incidents of drug use in the Tour de France have been a frequent occurrence almost annually.
One of the most popular sport sin the USA is baseball. It is regarded as an American pastime.
Over the past few years there has been a slew of revelations, accusations and counter accusations amongst the baseball fraternity such that it now seems almost impossible to credit any of the players of the modern era with the records they established before being exposed.
In 1988 Mark McGwire was credited with breaking Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs in a single season. He was a national hero and the feat was all the more captivating as he and Tommy Sosa engaged in a veritable home run derby
Jose Canseco, in his retirement suggested that as many as 85% of the players in baseball in the US were using some form of steroids to help their game. Since then there have been startling revelations about the seemingly widespread use of drugs in the sport to such an extent that its image has been tattered. One is not sure what to think of any of the leading players in the sport in respect of how ‘clean’ they are.
Before leaving the sport of Tennis Boris Becker raised eyebrows when he suggested that some players were using performance enhancing drugs.
CBC Online stated, In January 2004, Canadian-born British tennis star Greg Rusedski joined a long list of athletes who have tested positive for nandrolone. He isn’t the only tennis player, either. According to reports, 47 players on the pro tour have tested positive for the banned steroid.
There seems reason to believe that in archery and shooting athletes seem to head towards marijuana as the drug of choice given the need to ensure that they are calm when involved in competition.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has just slapped a ban on Alberto Contador, a former winner of the Tour de France in 2010 who has been fighting against the accusations levelled at him for some time. There seems reason to believe that despite the very best efforts of the governing body for the sport – UCI – the situation remains essentially the same, especially in the Tour de France.
After some five years the Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled against former Tour de France winner from Germany, Jan Ullrich. The CAS stated, Given the volume, consistency and probative value of the evidence…the Panel came to the conclusion that Jan Ullrich engaged at least in blood doping in violation of Article 15.2 of the UCI (International Cycling Federation) anti-doping rules.
Caribbean athletes are not in any way exempt in this disgusting practice.
It should be stated here that in neighbouring Barbados, Barry Forde, was stripped of his Pan America gold medal of 2003 following a positive drug test. He has since left the sport following another positive test.
In athletics we here have suffered the ignominy of having our first official positive drug test when Natasha Mayers was fingered in 2004.
Jamaica’s athletes have been under the microscope recently given the outstanding performances at the Beijing Olympics. In 2009 five athletes tested positive at that country’s National Championships for stimulants and each received a three-month suspension. Following this Shelly-Ann Fraser, reigning world and Olympic 100m champion, tested positive for the painkiller, Oxycodone and was handed a six-month suspension.
Jamaica’s latest casualty is Steve Mullings who tested positive in 2011 and this for the second time. He is fighting the charge.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has spent the past several years leading the fight against doping in sport. In this regard it has recruited the support of most of the international sports federations and governments across the world. This has positively impacted the world of professional sport as well as many of the governing bodies take up the challenge.
With the London Olympics imminent the sporting world is watching to see what would happen.
Many already seem to think that the use of banned substances is pervasive such that records can hardly be taken seriously. Perhaps this was what former IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch saw when he suggested that all world records should have ended at the close of the last millennium and a fresh start made at the beginning of the new millennium.
Samaranch’s statement left many wondering whether he knew something that the rest of the sporting world already suspected but could not prove.
There are some who would readily suggest that we should cease the banning of performance enhancing substances and allow the scientists to run riot. They claim that we do need to see the true capacity of the human body even with additives much like the vehicles used in Formula 1 racing.