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READ THE REID: Drugs now just a part of sport

"We can never be sure who is and who is not taking drugs. It’s a very confused place out there"

Donal Reid

Reporter:

Donal Reid

Email:

Sport@donegaldemocrat.com

READ THE REID: Drugs now just a part of sport

I heard an interview on BBC Radio 5 recently in relation to the use of drugs in the sport of boxing. I suppose nothing should shock me nowadays in our modern so-called progressive era. But still, there are rights and wrongs and dos and don’ts. I’ve always held that sport is a mirror image of life. Success demands great sacrifice, effort, discipline and hard work. As in life, there are shortcuts.
The use of drugs in sports with the aim of improving performance is not a new phenomenon. Drugs have been used to enhance performance since ancient times. Greek and roman civilisations used mushrooms and herbs to improve their performance. The more recent forms of performance enhancing drugs have roots from World War II where Amphetamines were used by American soldiers to keep them alert and Germans used anabolic steroids to increase their aggressive behaviour.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was formed in 1999 to promote and co-ordinate the fight against drug use in sport on an international level, across all sports. The use of drugs in sports seems to be increasing though or perhaps it is that more athletes are being caught. Indeed, the GAA has courted controversy in relation to doping but, incidents are rare…for now. It is an open secret that recreational drugs are used by a minority which is a worrying trend. Alcohol and drugs are the scourge of modern progressive societies and Ireland is right up there in the medals table.
The most recent drugs controversy involves the sports of cycling and boxing. The former has been affected by this malaise for quite a while, most especially with the revelations about Lance Armstrong. Bradley Wiggins is the latest casualty. Chris Froome continues to race while under investigation.
Canelo Alvarez, a world champion Mexican boxer, tested positive for trace levels of the performance-enhancing drug clanbuterol in this past few weeks. He said that meat that he ate was “contaminated”. He also, is not banned. The sports disciplines of athletics and tennis seem to take drug testing more seriously. At the recent World Indoor Athletics Championships, no Russian athletes were allowed to compete because of doping. The tennis player Maria Sharapova completed a 15-month ban for taking performance enhancing drugs recently.
For those of us who admire our sports people and laud their performances, it’s so disappointing to find out that some of them cheated. The pressure to succeed, the financial benefit and the adulation are all factors which contribute to the problem. It seems that few sporting disciplines are free from drug use.
Even our “beautiful game”, soccer has had its controversies. In 2015, there were 149 cases of doping in soccer worldwide (WADA). Doping in world soccer is played down, though. Any talk about performance enhancing drugs could wreck the game and reduce the amount of the game’s millionaires in the process.
In 2004, the team doctor for Juventus Turin received a prison sentence for injecting players with EPO over the course of several years. Last year, French national team player Mamadou Sakho, who played his club football for Liverpool at the time, was discovered to have been using higenamine, a substance which increases the heart rate. Out of the 149 cases that WADA found, only 78 are admitted to by FIFA. Somebody’s lying. I don’t think it’s WADA.
Striving for success is driving a minority of elite professional athletes to take drugs to reach their goals. But a minority is doing an awful lot of damage. The consequences can be dangerous and even fatal. It is worth remembering that most drugs used for performance enhancement in sport are medicines invented to make sick people better.
As prize money and sponsorship deals get bigger, so do the incentives for coaches and athletes to find ingenious ways to cheat. But the agencies charged with stopping doping lack independence and money. The rules they are supposed to enforce are riddled with loopholes. The result is a system that looks tough on doping, without uncovering much of it. Even animals are doing drugs. Last year, four dogs who ran in the Iditarod, an annual long-distance sled-dog race in Alaska, tested positive for a banned opioid painkiller.
Interestingly, not even a tenth of those who dope are ever caught. The failings of the drug-testing system mean whistle-blowers are particularly valuable. But they are taking a big risk. Two former employees of Russia’s national anti-doping agency have died in suspicious circumstances, and two more are in hiding in America.
The former director of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission, who exposed weaknesses in the country’s anti-doping agency before the 2012 Olympics, said she was called a “traitor” and had to move house after receiving threats. With doping so common and so rarely punished, athletes face an unappealing choice. They may not want to dope, but knowing that many of their competitors do, they may feel that they must, too.
We love sport because of its epic, gladiatorial quality. Unfortunately, some corrupt governments, some corrupt sporting bodies and some corrupt individuals have robbed us of that true Herculean spirit. We need heroes who we can admire and who can give testimony to life’s trials and troubles. As you have seen, the world of sport is riddled with cheaters. We can never be sure who is and who is not taking drugs. It’s a very confused place out there.
The only thing that we do is; keep the faith!