It’s Time to Work Together to Stop Doping in Sports

The greatest threat to international sport isn’t the pay offs in Salt Lake City, but the use of dangerous performance-enhancing drugs. Their use threatens the very foundation of sport. The integrity, the image and even the existence of elite-level international competition is in jeopardy. Every world-class event is somehow tainted by “doping”, the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs.

Charges continue to fly among world governing bodies as they try to shift blame and responsibility for the sullied reputation of international competition. In the aftermath of what is arguably the most successful Olympic Games ever, accusations persist that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) routinely turns a blind eye to evidence of doping and that its drug-detection methods are ineffectual. Perhaps overly sensitive to continued criticism about drugs in the Olympics, IOC leaders ripped the United States Track and Field Federation. They accused them of turning a blind eye and being in a “state of denial” about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by C.J. Hunter, the world shot-put champion and husband of Olympian Marian Jones. The IOC has even been accused of “covering-up” the drug epidemic in sport, but critics contend that the organization has sometimes discarded positive drug test results in fear that the image of the Games would suffer.

At the Atlanta Games in 1996 several athletes tested positive for Probenecid, the banned masking agent, but the IOC took no action. Only two Olympians were reported for testing positive for steroids although there were several other unreported positive samples. In spite of its new one million-dollar mass spectrometer, the IOC, afraid of legal challenges from athletes, discarded the results. The motivation, say critics, for the IOC’s soft policy on doping is the fear of loss of sponsorships resulting from a tarnished image. How much more tarnished does the image need to be before they put their considerable weight and influence behind an international independent drug testing and enforcement agency? At a meeting in 1999 at the IOC’s World Conference on Doping in Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, the representatives of different sports federations from around the world failed to reach agreement for instituting a meaningful policy in drug enforcement which included a mandatory 2-year ban for doping. The delegates didn’t agree on a policy, ostensibly because the IOC insisted on control.

Historically, the IOC would appear to be a leader in the war against doping. It was the IOC that first defined and banned doping in 1967. The first drug tests in international sport were administered for research purposes by the IOC at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. No athletes were punished for positive tests. The motivation for drug testing was based upon suspicions about drug related deaths among cyclists and soccer players and rumors about widespread drug use among Eastern European athletes. Rumors subsequently were verified after the fall of the Berlin Wall and world access to secret records detailing significant and long-term performance-enhancing drug use among East German athletes.

In 1982 the IOC added testosterone to its list of banned substances. More and more athletes tested positive for drug use in a wide range of amateur and professional sports as the investigations into drug use in sports came under closer public scrutiny.

As testing methods and the detection of banned substances became more familiar to athletes and the professionals that helped them with doping, the better the methods to avoid detection became. In the mid 1980’s steroid users turned to unbanned masking drugs or switched to harder to detect substances such as human growth hormone, hGH. The most recent substance to be added to the “doper’s pharmacy” is Erythropoietin (EPO), a form of protein that stimulates the formation of red blood cells and therefore boosts the oxygen-carrying capacity of an athlete’s blood.

There may be solutions out there to stem the wholesale use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport besides detection and punishment. Indeed, education and public condemnation is the best long-term idea, but something drastic needs to be done to stop doping now. Drastic measures are called for. The IOC and other international governing bodies in sport need to set their self-interests aside and form a united front to fight doping at every level.

The development of drug tests and administering the tests is expensive. On some scales it is cost prohibitive. Purchasing and developing equipment to administer effective testing is also costly.

Why not pool the drug testing financial resources from the different organizations around the world? Set aside self-interest, pride and arrogance and develop an independent body financed by a consortium of the IOC and world sports organizations. Solicit sponsors to raise money. Give the independent body worldwide jurisdiction to test randomly anywhere in the world. Vest it with enforcement authority at all levels and provide for serious, mandatory penalties. Then constitute a tribunal to hear and decide appeals. There has been enough fingerpointing, accusations and shifting blame and responsibility. Let’s unite to send a message that the world sport community is finally serious and will do whatever it takes to get the “doping” problem under control.

This solution would lead to state-of-the-art technology, remove politics and bribery from the equation and allow for swift and sure punishment. Let’s put a “zero tolerance” policy in effect for doping and then have guts enough to enforce it!


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Richard Bell, Chair of Sport Management, One Academy Drive, Daphne, AL 35626-7055, (334) 626-3303, email: rbell@ussa.edu.