It seems like barely a week goes past without a doping scandal threatening to destroy an athletes career and generate negative publicity for their sport. Anti-doping agencies continue to crack down harsher on those violating the rules, but struggle to wipe it out completely. It is a vicious and complexed issue, but are they going about it the wrong way?
In July Indian sport came under scrutiny after their national National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) revealed that 852 of their athletes has failed a drugs test between 2009-2017. In 2015 the country was ranked third by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for the highest number of doping violations. On the surface, it appears as if India has a problem with doping, but this may not be entirely true according to Dr PSM Chandran. The president of the Federation of Indian Sports medicine.
“Athletes in USA and Germany research about the new medicines properly and then use it to enhance their performance. Those countries have good scientific support system in place, unlike in India. Their athletes hardly get caught because of their advanced sporting system.” He told The Kashmir Monitor.
At the time, little was made of Chandran’s comment. That was until the latest doping scandal to rock athletics. An investigation by The Telegraph last year claimed that members of world 100m champion Justin Gatlin’s team offered to supply performance enhancing substances. Using an undercover actor, Gatlin’s coach and agent were caught offering to supply testosterone and human growth hormone via a doctor in Austria. This wasn’t the most concerning finding. It was their alleged claim that the substances would be undetectable in drugs tests.
“It cannot be found in the body... Because it is synthetically produced. You cannot find something like that.” Gatlin’s former agent Robert Wagner told an undercover reporter.
Gatlin, who has previously served two doping bans himself, denies any involvement. Still, concerns remain about how clean the world of track and field really is. If scientists can manufacture drugs to make them undetectable in doping tests, how can the problem be tackled? The answer is one that is both controversial and eye-opening.
The world of legal doping
Allowing doping in sports sounds bizarre, but is it really? Julian Savulescu is a professor of practical ethics at the University of Oxford. He has long argued for legalisation of doping. Savulescu believes that athletes should be allowed to take performance enhancing drugs on two conditions. First, they must be administered under medical observation. Secondly, they must not be taken at an excess that could harm the athlete.
In response to those critics, professor Savulescu believes that this approach would boost the spirit of sport. Athletes would be on a level-field with nobody taking illegal substances.
“It is clear that zero-tolerance towards drugs isn’t working. It is not stopping people from cheating. It is not providing assurances to the public that good performances are clean.” He explained in a written article for The Conversation.
“Even the data we have now is likely to underestimate the problem. “Non suspicious” blood data does not prove that no doping technique has been used, only that it did not exceed a certain range, or vary beyond a certain degree.”
On the other side of the argument, some think legalising doping would have negative effects on a person's health in the long-term. During the 1970s and 1980s East Germany supported their athletes with an illegal state sponsored doping program. According to a BBC news report in 2015, an estimated 10,000 people were either mentally or physically damaged by the program. Three-time Olympic gold medallist Rica Reinisch said she suffered two miscarriages as a result of the drugs she was given.
There may never be a solution
In reality doping in sport will remain prohibited and quite rightly so. Whilst allowing controlled doping is a good idea and it to a degree more fairer for countries that have poor sport science facilities. It would bring up too many complications with the law on drugs.
Although doping isn’t welcome in the world of sport it won't be going away. Athletes are always looking to get the edge over their rivals. Unfortunately, that results in some bending the rules and getting away with it. It is for this reason why it can never be erased in sport. It can only be contained.