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Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

Essay by   •  February 8, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,939 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,734 Views

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Performance Enhancing Drugs: Introduction

The Tour de France is considered the world's most competitive bicycle race. Each summer top cycling teams from around the world compete in the three-week event, which sends riders on a grueling, multi-stage course through the mountainous countryside of Ireland, France, and Belgium. In 1998, the image of Tour de France cyclists as athletes at the peak of their natural abilities was tarnished by allegations of widespread performanceenhancing drug use among competitors. The "doping" scandal broke a few days prior to the start of the race when a masseuse for France's Festina team, Willy Voet, was arrested after police found large quantities of anabolic steroids and erythropoietin, or EPO, in his car as he crossed from Belgium into France. A subsequent police investigation uncovered a wellorganized system, orchestrated by the team's management and doctor, for supplying riders with illicit performance-enhancing drugs. The Festina team was suspended from the Tour, and further investigations by French police led to the suspension and withdrawal of several more teams. Riders went on strike to protest the investigations, and less than half of the original competitors finished the race.

French authorities are not alone in punishing athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. From the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the National Basketball Association (NBA) to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), most high-profile sports organizations have taken substantial steps to crack down on doping. Stronger anti-doping initiatives are considered necessary to preclude scandals that damage the image of sports and to silence critics who contend that not enough is being done to rid sports of drugs. The IOC, for example, which enforces the rules of the Olympic Games, set up the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999 as an independent body charged with coordinating a consistent system for testing Olympic athletes. WADA works with international sports federations and Olympic committees and has begun conducting unannounced, out-of-competition tests on Olympic hopefuls. This practice reduces the chance that competitors will rid their systems of drugs before being tested. The list of banned substances on the Olympic Movement's Anti-Doping Code includes stimulants, narcotics, anabolic steroids, beta blockers, diuretics, various hormones, and drugs known as "masking agents," which are used to prevent detection of illicit substances during drug tests. WADA is also investing more of its resources in developing new tests to keep pace with the changing array of drugs that athletes are taking.

Whether or not those who contend that drug tests remain easy to beat will be satisfied by renewed testing efforts remains uncertain. Clearly, however, performance-enhancing drug testing has affected the careers of many elite athletes. Athletes who test positive for drugs at the Olympic level are stripped of their medals and records and are suspended from all competition for two years on the first offense. In 1988, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of a gold medal and was later banned from track-and-field competition for life after he tested positive for steroids. At the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, Romanian gymnast Andrea Raducan had her gold medal taken away when she tested positive for pseudoephedrine, a stimulant. American shot-putter C.J. Hunter withdrew from competition after it was revealed that he had tested positive four times for the steroid nandrolone. Scores of other athletes were also expelled from the Sydney Games after flunking drug tests. More recently, at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, British skier Alain Baxter was stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for methamphetamine, although an appeal is pending.

Detection efforts notwithstanding, seeking an edge over one's opponents has long made the use of performance-enhancing drugs a part of athletic competition. A review of sports history reveals that drugs and sports have gone hand-in-hand for centuries, and surprisingly, drugs have only been banned from the Olympic Games since 1968. Explains Ivan Waddington in his book Sport, Health, and Drugs, "Performanceenhancing drugs have been used by people involved in sport and sportlike activities for some 2,000 years, but it is only very recently (specifically, since the introduction of anti-doping regulations and doping controls from the 1960s) that this practice has been regarded as unacceptable. In other words, for all but the last three or four decades, those involved in sports have used performance-enhancing drugs without infringing any rules and without the practice giving rise to highly emotive condemnation and stigmatization." This shift from tolerating doping in sports to testing athletes and ostracizing drug cheats has been driven by several factors. Perhaps most important, technological advances in performance- enhancing drugs, beginning in the 1950s, have bolstered the contention that drug use threatens the integrity of sports. Another motivation behind the shift has been to deter athletes from using illicit substances with unknown health effects.

Consider, for example, the evolution of performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries looking for chemical enhancement were stuck with the limited efficacy of stimulants and painkillers. In the mid-1950s, anabolic steroids, synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone, were introduced. Anabolic steroids build muscle and bone mass by stimulating the muscle and bone cells to make new protein. Coaches and athletes saw these drugs as a major breakthrough because they enabled athletes to transcend the limits of natural ability and reach new levels of competitiveness.

The first indication that athletes were using steroids came during the 1956 World Games in Moscow, Russia. According to Robert Voy in his book Drugs, Sport, and Politics, an American doctor, John B. Ziegler, observed Soviet athletes using urinary catheters, because steroids had enlarged their prostates to the point where urination was difficult. Ziegler returned to the United States and helped develop Dianobol, a steroid that was quickly embraced by American athletes, who hoped it would level the playing field with the Soviets. As a result, steroid use became widespread among elite athletes.

Concerns that doped athletes were exercising an unfair advantage over their opponents and violating the ideals of sportsmanship followed the rise in steroid use. Explains John Hoberman, the author of Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport, "Performance-enhancing drugs have subverted

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