The link between drugs and sport is one that has become a growing concern. With the fierce competition that exists within elite levels of sports, the temptation to use any means possible to enhance performance has proved for some to be too great.
In a field where the top elite cyclists will often avoid touching door handles or elevator buttons in order to avoid germs and possible sickness, it is unsurprising that performance enhancing drugs are too alluring for everyone to resist.
Careers have been ruined after scandals surrounding an athletes drug use – cyclist Lance Armstrong made headlines last year with his admissions of using performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong wasn’t just a good racer – he was an excellent cheater.
Armstrong had won seven straight Tour de France titles and even boasted never to have failed a drug test; but in 2012, he admitted, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that he had used performance enhancing drugs.
But while Armstrong is facing a lifetime ban, many others, not yet caught, continue to evade detection.
While some argue that using performance enhancing drugs (or doping) is no different to making use of technological improvements like sportswear, proponents of the anti-doping rule say that such measures go against the spirit of sport.
Not only is it unfair, but deadly – at least twenty six riders have died in suspicious circumstances in the last twenty years.
Drug testing in Australia is an essential part of the prevention of drugs being used in competitive sports.
Australian tests, regulated by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), can be either carried out in-competition or out-of-competition like the home or training ground and athletes must comply with requests for testing.
There are some valid reasons for athletes to refuse testing, such as full media commitments, performing a warm down, completing a training session or receiving medical treatment. But if there is no valid reason and an athlete still refuses, they may face sanctions and may even get the same penalty that would have resulted if drugs were detected.
Almost all of this testing is carried out with no notice and can include the collection of urine, blood or both.
Doping Control Officers are responsible for organising and managing this process, including witnessing the sample being provided. It is their responsibility to make sure that the sample collection process is fair.
In Australia, and according to ASADA, for a substance to be classified as prohibited it must meet two out of the three following conditions:
- 1. The substance or method enhances, or has the potential to enhance performance in sport
- 2. The substance or method has the potential to risk the health of the athlete
- 3. The World Anti-Doping Agency has deemed the substance or method to violate the spirit of sport.
However all these guidelines and tough regulations have not been able to stamp out the problem: in fact the links between drugs and sport has been increasing.
According to the Australian Drug Foundation, Australian sporting clubs have a reputation for a ‘boozy’ culture, with drinking and drugs – both recreational and performance enhancing.
When the Australian Crime Commission handed down their report last year, it was dubbed ‘the darkest day’ in Australian sport.
The report found that performance enhancing drug use had increased significantly.
These findings ran across several clubs and different sports. Even racehorses were found to have been injected with drugs and perhaps most disturbingly, a case of team doping – orchestrated by club officials and coaching staff.
These findings uncover a worrying trend: an industry where athletes may be encouraged or even instructed by coaches, clubs, sports scientists or others to take drugs.
This doesn’t take away from the personal choice that athletes such as Armstrong made when taking drugs, but it shows that the problem lies deeper than just a few athletes. The industry is a large part of the problem and needs to take responsibility for its part in the encouragement and facilitation of competitors taking performance enhancing drugs.