Discussing the Popularity and Challenges of Fair Play and Sports Doping


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Sport continues to grow, which reflects into the progress of record-breaking results and even more higher level of competitive sports. The popularity measured by people who watch the sport events and those willing to practice, is growing significantly fast. However, modern sport is far from the vision of Pierre de Coubertin. Alongside, there are also the negative aspects such as commercialisation, corruption and doping. The scandals related to the detection of doping in famous athletes or sudden end of a career due to the death of one of them, evoke a stormy discussion on the doping in sports. Many outstanding athletes has been caught for doping. Once Ben Johnson, recently Lance Armstrong. In the United Kingdom, not so long ago, there was much controversies around Rhys Williams (hurdler), who has been suspended from all competition for doping violation at the Glasgow Grand Prix on 11 July 2014. Once a quiet, now louder voice saying: – What if we legalize this doping ?. Would make ever competitor equal or would that just create a global armaments race, where nations produce a massive amounts of performance-enhancing drug, and the athletes are just a ‘lab rats’ ready to take anything in the name of glory ?

Performance-enhancing drugs are not unique to modern athletic competition. Plants, mushrooms and mixtures of wine and herbs were used by ancient Roman gladiators and Greek Olympic athletes competing in Circus Maximus dating back to 776 BC. Various plants were used for their stimulant effects in speed and endurance events as well as to mask pain, allowing injured athletes to continue competing (Landry & Kokotaio 1994, Barhke & Yesalis 2002). In China, the popular method of doping was a use of Ma Huang (an extract from the plant Ephedra) to increase performance over 5,000 years ago, when this drug was usually used to suppress coughing and to stimulate circulation (Abourashedet al. 2003). One of the most promising of the enhancing drug was “Mariani wine”, first produced and patented 1863 by Angelo Mariani, and made from Bordeaux wine and coca extracts. Among high-ranking consumers (e.g. Thomas Edison, Henrik Ibsen, Jules Verne), Pope Leo XIII conferred a gold medal on Vin Mariani. This beverage became later forbidden under the “Opium” (or Narcotics) Law in Germany in 1920 (Eckart 2003 in Beavo. 2010). In the second half of the twentieth century doping in sport became widespread. Actually, it is not a phenomenon of our time, but rather a global issue of epidemic size that have reached almost all sport’s disciplines. Strychnine, alcohol, cocaine and caffeine were often used by cyclists and other endurance athletes in single as well as combined competitions (Beavo. 2010).

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Reportedly, since 1920, the restrictions for the use of pharmaceuticals in sports have been introduced, and the IAAF prohibited doping (use of stimulating agents) in 1928, however, the official testing of humans was not yet performed (Beavo. 2010). As the humans’ testing were not yet performed, the restrictions remained ineffective due to the lack of testing possibilities. In 1967, a list of prohibited substance and anti-doping testing in the 1972 Munich Games was introduced by IOC (The International Olympic Committee) (Baron, Martin & Magd 2007). It was a second attempt of doping tests by IOC, however, the tests performed during Summer Olmympic Games in Mexico, proven to be ineffective due to the inappropriately introduced a policy regarding the samples collection (Beavo. 2010). In 1966, other international federations such as UCI (cycling) and FIFA, also introduced doping tests in their World Championships. (Baron, Martin & Magd 2007). It was clear indication to the world that doping did work, and could provide a tremendous advantage over the opponents. However. the world became acutely aware of the extent and benefits of doping in sport when Ben Johnson’s gold medal was stripped in the 1988 Seoul Olympics for using the steroid stanazalol (Baron, Martin & Magd 2007). The Games in Seoul and the spectacular stanozolol caused a shock among the sports community and led to an increased readiness to support effective doping control measures. Although, the doping control and analysis would always remain far behind the progress of doping strategies (Beavo. 2010), the organisations around the globe conduct approximately 200, 000 tests annually, of which the majority are out-of-competition tests (Borms 2008). EPO (erythropoietin) and growth hormone are still difficult substances to detect and genetic technologies will become possible in the near future (Borms 2008). Therefore, a battle between doping substances and doping control is expected to be continued.

Despite the often presence of the performance-enhancement drugs among the athletes, their knowledge regards the possible outcomes of use, is only partial or false. Yet, time after time, the athletes put themselves at high risk of short term as well as long term illness by using drugs or doping. According to Cazzola (2000), the blood doping is effective and important to those who are related to the abuse of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEpo), and the likelihood of the side-effects is very low. However, the author states, that the issue with healthy athletes is completely different. Parrisoto (2000) confirmed the statement of Cazzola and added, that the athletes who use blood transfusion as a doping in sport, put themselves in unnecessary health risk. Since the healthy individuals, such as the athletes, do not need any treatment, they abuse rHuEpo to increase his red cell mass and athletic performance, develops PRCA and becomes transfusion-dependent for the rest of his life (Bunn 2002). In this era of anti-doping, a black market in substances such as anabolic steroids have developed, often of dubious quality. Dangerous practices have emerged, such as sharing syringes, leading to risk of HIV or hepatitis virus infection (Midgley. et al. 2000). Furthermore, the authors, Gilberg, Breivik & Loland (2007), have highlighted three types of adverse effects in health by using performance enhancement drugs. The first one is physical adverse effect and vary depending on the type of substances that have been used. The anabolic steroid for instance, affect women’s femininity and men’s masculinity. Abuse can also result in hepatic injuries, jaundice and cardiovascular diseases. Psychological adverse effects focus on psychological in doping. The use of anabolic steroids may lead to increased aggressive behaviour, addiction, depression and anxiety. Lastly, the social adverse effects, reflect on the behaviour of the individual and become a centre of attention. The anabolic steroids combined with alcohol may cause an aggressive and violent behaviour. (Gilberg, Breivik & Loland 2007).

As mentioned before, the enhancement was and most certainly will be present in modern life of sport. It seems that banning all enhancement drugs or allowing would make everyone equal, but it is not as easy as it looks like. The creed of the Olympics states: “The important thing in the games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing is not conquering, but fighting well”. (Baron, Martin & Magd 2007:118). Unfortunately, this statement has very little to do with the reality, where the elite athletes and even the team crew is put under a massive pressure to win, to success every time possible. Therefore, a little ‘help’ that may provide a substantial advantage over the opponents, appears to be harmful at first. It seems sometimes that the athletes prior to a competition are ready to apply just about anything, as long as it is not causing an immediate death and provide an advantage over rivals. The rationale for such behaviours can be found in big money, directly and indirectly related with the achieved results, strong social pressure exerted on the athletes, a huge stress resulting from a perpetual rivalry, the desire to win at all costs, fame and affiliated to the occupation of the first places (Gilberg, Breivik & Loland 2007). Result of the study, carried out by the doctor, Robert Voy, American Olympic Committee doctor, showed that more than 50% of high-class athletes would be willing to risk of a use of doping for a Olympic gold medal, even if they could die within a year (Voy & Deeter 1991). The prohibited substances are more likely to be used on the day of a competition, however, Mottram & Gunnell (2002), argued that the athletes are consider the use of stimulants in training to allow the intensity of the training session to be increased. The authors further state, that the use of doping during the training, is much more advantageous as it helps the athlete through ‘the pain barrier’ (Mottram & Gunnell 2002).

The doping problem is not exclusive to elite and competitive sport. It also exists in environments with less competitive training and exercise and with a stronger focus on body appearance. In bodybuilding and fitness, a pressure to obtain a ‘ideal body’ and to pursuit a social identity, almost force the individual to use doping (Gilberg, Breivik & Loland 2007). Fitness and body building sub-cultures that organize doping use often have a well-developed use of symbols and rituals in its communication with the outside world. These environments are often very private and hard to access for outsiders because the knowledge about, and the use of, doping becomes such an important part of the environment’s protective ideology. The body presented by the media, movies, fashion industries; a muscular men and slim fit women, dominate the scene, proclaiming the ‘desired’ body for every individual. In this context, sport and training become very interesting arenas. Different sports provide different opportunities to shape the body. Most forms for training will lead the body closer to the ideal. As the authors states, (Gilberg, Breivik & Loland 2007), with regard to body shape and looks, enough is never enough, and people get caught up with new trends, diets and drugs, constantly offered by the fitness and body sculpturing industries.

There is an increased, tense debate arguing the legalization of doping. The authors come from the assumption of doping – constantly adopting more and more sophisticated forms – seems it cannot be stopped, and the fight is compared to the struggles of Don Quixote – Tilting at windmill. Foddy and Suvulescu (2007), believe that the elimination of anti-doping rules would be much more effective, easier and cheaper, than the new policies to control the doping. They further state that in the near future, will be almost impossible to control the use of the illegal substances. It is difficult even to estimate how much illegal performance enhancement occurs at elite level. We are all familiar with the regular doping scandals at each major sporting event. In some sports, such as cycling, it is said to be endemic. Although, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) spend over $US 20 million just for testing alone, yet only about 10–15% of participating athletes are tested in each major competition (IAAF 2004). As gene doping becomes more efficient, it is likely to offer great opportunities for doping in sport. It may provide a better purpose and most likely be undetectable (Andersen, Schjerling & Saltin, 2000). In near future, detection will likely require not blood or urine tests (as occurs now), but invasive, difficult and dangerous muscle biopsies. As gene therapy works in animals nowadays (for example inserting the EPO gene), there is no reason why it could not be attempted by athletes (Foddy and Suvulescu 2007). Another major argument that support the legalisation of doping is inequality of genes that can have a huge impact in obtaining an advantage over the opponents. Furthermore, inequalities exists in accessibility and/or money. The richer countries, will provide much more to their athletes, compared to developing countries. ‘’ By allowing everyone to take performance enhancing drugs, we level the playing field. We remove the effects of genetic inequality. Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality.’’ (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton 2004;668)

The debate rages over the years, and the arguments are different. Many say that the legalization of doping, would change nothing, and the competition would be won by the bests. However it would be a ignorance not to include a scientifically part into consideration. First of all, their view assumes that everyone will have access to the same substance, which after all is a fiction. These days one is willing to risk more than the other. It is often thought that the victims of mishaps are two types of athletes. Those who exaggerate, by taking a random substance and those who do not have access to the expertise of athletes and doctors. One of the claims made by sport policy makers is that athletes in particular and sport in general, have an obligation to set a good example, since many young people are influenced by sporting heroes, and use them as role models. The idea that sport should set good examples for impressionable children, and provide them with a reliable moral compass, is widely held, and is mirrored in the long list of personal and social benefits ascribed to sport participation (White, Duda & Keller 1998). There is also agreement that sport and its regulating agencies must take some responsibility for the health of athletes. Risk is an inherent part of sport, and governing bodies attempt to mitigate it wherever possible. Although, the sport is constantly regulated and shifting to provide a safety to the performers, almost any kind of sport discipline carry a potential risk. Sports like American football, mountaineering, base-jumping and motor racing continue to be played despite warnings of the risks of serious injury (Voy & Deeter 1991). The legalisation of the enhancement drugs could only bring unnecessary health risk to the sport environment, where the safety one of the top priorities in modern times.

It is easy to conclude that the interpretation of the principle of fair play in the society is not clear. One regard it as a set of ethical rules of conduct, for others is a set of rules that are being questioned – especially in competitive sports, where the ‘game’ is about big money. The principle of fair play is sometimes seen as a basic question regard the future of the sport. According to the rules of ‘fair play’, the athletes compete with others by relying solely on their skills. Unfortunately, the frequency of doping scandals associated with ‘cheating’ is growing. Media presents more doping scandals, and deaths occur during the sports events. The removal of doping controls would have major benefits: less cheating, increased solidarity and respect between athletes, more focus on sport and not on rules. Most of the ‘costs’ of abolishing doping controls depend on false beliefs. However, even if we set up a scenario, where every athlete in the world has at its disposal the same medications and substances. Would the classification look the same as when everyone is ‘clean’? After the possible legalization, a winner would be the one who has the most adaptable body to provided doping substances. And this is a big difference. Instead of supporting one side of the ‘battle’, and achieve merely a fraction of what was desired, we should focus on the health of athletes, not performance enhancement. Rather than attempting to detect undetectable enhancers, we should spend our limited resources on evaluating health and fitness to compete. There are good reasons to allow performance enhancement, to make sport fairer (in the sense that the rules are equally applied) and to narrow the gap between the cheaters and the honest athletes. It would provide a better spectacle, be safer and less coercive. Nowadays, it is difficult to treat sport only as a pleasure. Today the sport is commerce, money, and advertising. It is also difficult traced back to the competition sports resurrected by the idea of the modern Olympic movement by Coubertin – the modern sports more likely show an image of Roman games, denying increasingly the rules of fair play. We cannot prevent sport from evolving, but we can and should begin to direct its evolution for the better.

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