Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Paul Wright | Are we losing the fight against doping?

Published:Tuesday | February 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
File A test kit for human urine doping testing with A and B sample bottles.

In the beginning, sports was a means of improving health and competing against family members and members of the same tribe. Later on in history, it is noted that sports between nations was so important, that wars were suspended until after the competition was concluded. But the desire for a competitive edge was considered a part of human nature.

In early Olympic Games, competitors recognised the importance of testosterone and ate sheep testicles while preparing for competition. Horses involved in chariot races in ancient Rome were given special food to make them run faster. Mushrooms and seeds were so prevalent that in 393 AD, the Olympics were banned. In 1896, the Modern Olympics were started.

By the early 1960s, anabolic steroids were being developed and refined.

Their use became widespread and began turning up in all sports. In the 1960 Olympics, a Danish cyclist Knut Jensen died. An autopsy revealed high levels of amphetamine. After decades of subsequent anti doping reforms and changes in drug testing methods, what could be considered as the "fight against doping in sports" began.

Administrators, athletes, sponsors and fans all thought that what would follow would be the elimination from sports of those who cheat, those who, while striving for that elusive 'edge' were prepared to 'try a thing' by taking ANYTHING that unscrupulous "experts" told them would help them to win.

What has been happening, however, is simply (to my way of thinking,) unbelievable. Those caught by a National Drug Testing programme would lie barefacedly when asked to explain the adverse analytical finding.

They felt safe in the knowledge that government officials, lawyers, doctors, coaches, and administrators of the very organisation set up to stop cheating, would do ANYTHING to exonerate the cheater, or to arrange a slap on the wrist as a sanction, because "if so-and-so is proven to be dishonest, the sport would suffer".

Whistle-blowers have exposed many of these unscrupulous individuals, but many are still in positions of power and influence.


The recent exoneration of the Russian athletes by the Court of Arbitration for Sports bring to the fore the problem that those who want drug-free sports have. After a lawyer, Richard McLaren, found evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia, the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, made some extraordinary claims, none of which have been disproved. These claims include a statement that in Russia, "dirty" samples have been switched in the lab for clean ones, and that there is a Moscow lab with secret database that proves that thousands of positives were covered up.

Condemnation of this decision to reduce the life bans of Russian athletes convicted of doping, is coming thick and fast. Linda Hellebrand, a vice-president of World Anti-Doping Agency, said "Clean athletes have lost confidence in the system." Adam Pengilly, a member of the British International Olympic Committee is quoted as saying: "Athletes now think that you are better off cheating or getting your nation to establish a doping system, because even if it is discovered, consequences are minimal.

I am of the opinion that the rules regarding doping in sport are specifically written to allow clever lawyers to assist in the exoneration of these cheats. When an Olympic athlete can be cleared of wrongdoing from citing reasons that only come across as negligence, and be subsequently exonerated by a panel, one can be excused for beginning to wonder if the fight against doping in sports is not a grand waste of time and resources.

Are there any 'persons of integrity' and bravery anywhere in sports, or are we to scratch our collective heads when records are broken? Sports deserves better!