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The scourge of drugs in sports


by Jarand Cummings

The recent positive drug tests produced by the World and Olympic 100m champion, Justin Gatlin, and recent Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis, have once again cast a dark shadow over sport. To many, these results come as no surprise, which itself is a sad indictment on the current state of international sporting affairs. But why have we gone down this road? Several reasons can be proffered and it is likely a combination of these, rather than any single one.

The increased commercialism of sport has, undoubtedly, played a significant role in driving athletes to cheat. Money is the name of the game. Winning at all costs is the goal. It is tempting to say that these huge monetary rewards are the main and even the sole reason for the proliferation of drug taking. however, it is not that simple. The East Germans in their attempt to prove their superiority, embarked upon a state-sponsored, systematic doping regime.{{more}}

Had performance-enhancing drugs been available in times of yore, can we say with certainty that athletes would not have solicited their assistance? It is unfortunate, but true. There will always be those who cheat, whether it be by chemical aid, via match fixing (a la Hanse Cronje, Juventus etc.) or some other means. For some, the tenets of hard work and discipline are words without meaning; uttered only to fool the gullible into believing the heroic images they witness were achieved through noble means.

The general degradation of standards in society may be a contributory factor to the use of drugs in sport. The endemic cheating we witness is a reflection of many of society’s ills. How can anyone sleep at night knowing they have won through dishonest means? However, the fact that many of these persons exist, speaks to the ki`nd of world in which we live. A drug-cheat is no better than a thief, and we know there are many of those. The acquisition of material wealth has been embraced by most of the world, in particular the west. Impressionable minds soak up what they see and hear; the end result is what matters, the way there, unimportant.

There is an emerging school of thought that says, legalise the use of drugs. Make it a level playing field. If everyone uses drugs, then no one athlete has an advantage over another. To offer this argument, however, implicitly refutes the very argument. The athletes who can afford the most advanced drugs will win. The playing field will remain uneven. in addition, many of these substances are harmful to one’s health, to allow their uncontrolled use is tantamount to a death sentence.

So what is the way forward? Education must be a key component. We must instil in our children the virtues of honesty and integrity. Athletes must understand that a victory by unfair means defeats the purpose for which they compete. It is but a hollow victory, composed of deceit, rendering the athlete a loser.

Harsher penalties can be imposed. The current system suspends an athlete for two years after a first offence and for life after a second. A life ban for a first offence might dissuade would-be drug users, or a custodial sentence as is the case in Italy, may be the way forward.

Though athletes in athletics, cycling, swimming and other mainly Olympic sports tend to receive most of the press with regard to positive drug tests we must laud their efforts in stamping out cheating. Athletics for example, tests more frequently than most other sports.

The lack of drug testing in some of these sports leads to the perception that they are cleaner than those with rigorous drug testing procedures. If all sports took drug testing seriously, then some of those we now view as being dirty, may, in reality be the cleaner ones.

The Balco drug scandal has shed new light on the lengths to which some would go to get what they want. The revelation that THG, the formerly undetectable steroid, was in widespread use by Balco’s clients, including athletics and American football stars, sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world. The scandal encouraged major reforms, particularly in the United States, where the feeling for years was that little attention was paid to these issues. The lingering fear, however, is that undetectable drugs are continuously in use and the cheaters will always be a step ahead of the researchers. It is for this reason that the positive drug tests of Gatlin and Landis can be viewed as encouraging. Two athletes, at the height of their powers, found out and cut down by their wrongful acts.

From Ben Johnson to Tim Montgomery, several athletes have sought the easy path to success. We must all endeavour to arrest the situation now. Enough is enough! Let us impose harsher penalties and educate our young. Let’s restore sport to the glorious activity it was intended to be, one which builds character, creates and strengthens friendships and treats those two impostors, winning and losing the same. It is up to us, in all our endeavours we must do what is right, anything less and we would have lost the race.