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Doping and Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

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After widely known athletes such as Lance Armstrong became involved in doping scandals, the public became aware of the corruption that exists between drug use and professional athletes. It became publicized that secret government programs in Russia were providing drugs for their athletes in preparation for the Olympics. Although more research and studies are currently being conducted, there should still be more awareness and government interference to stop the trickling effects of doping on society and the health of athletes. Also, the idea that drug use is only common among professional athletes is false. Performance enhancement drugs are becoming increasingly more common in society, especially among young athletes in high school because more individuals experience the pressure of aesthetics. Government action should be taken to ban all performance enhancement drugs because the detrimental health effects do not only affect professional athletes but also younger generations as well.

Drug use in sports has often been received with little to no consequences and only a slap on the wrist by the world anti-doping agency or governments who run these athletic organizations. The use of drugs in sports is hard to avoid because without the help of performance-enhancing drugs, organizations like the NFL, MLB, NBA, or the Olympics, would not be multi-billion dollar organizations. Unfortunately, this is the case because audiences lean towards the epic and extravagant performances these athletes can achieve on their playing fields. Viewers enjoy the awe effect that the athletes can showcase and high viewer ratings are beneficial to these sports organizations. A prime example of this phenomenon is when NFL linemen bulk up to get bigger in size by using steroids to help optimize their chances of blocking their opponents on the field. As stated by Bryant McKinnie, an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, in an interview, “My size and strength are tough to beat. Some of these athletes have families to feed, and they, in turn, take drugs to compete with the big guys like me,” which proves that most athletes feel the need to take steroids to remain competitive in their respective sport (Khan, 2018). Some of these football players are the biggest and strongest men in the NFL which can be directly correlated to performance-enhancing drugs. In football, the linemen protect the quarterback and must do so by acting defensively and imitating a brick wall so that no man can get through. It is a lot more entertaining for viewers to watch large, bulky men playing as the linemen. As a result, while other players take performance-enhancing drugs, it is often a concern for natural athletes, who are not on performance-enhancing drugs, to keep up with their opponents who are on such drugs. Therefore, this need to be better than the other team creates a never-ending cycle of steroid abuse, which is extremely difficult to manage once it accelerates. According to Savulescu, J, Foddy B, and Clayton M, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, “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). Although the authors are in favor of the use of performance-enhancing drugs to promote an equal playing field, this mentality comes with many negative complications and consequences.

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One major consequence of performance-enhancing drugs is the safety and welfare of athletes and our children who look up to these larger-than-life athletes. Doping in sports is becoming more and more prevalent. In sports media, big, muscular athletes are glorified and depicted posing and/or representing a brand that they are sponsored by. For instance, Ilya Ilyin, one of the most famous Olympic Weightlifters from Kazakhstan has reported that he uses performance-enhancing drugs. Ilya has been seen as an icon in Olympic Weightlifting with consecutive Olympic gold medals and four world championships until he was stripped of all his titles in 2016 when he tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid. This anabolic steroid is called stanozolol, one of hundreds and thousands of performance-enhancing drugs that are readily available to purchase through easily accessible websites. Through a quick Google search, anyone can find such websites and purchase these drugs themselves, which is very alarming. The high availability of these drugs is the cause of the vast amount of steroid abusers in the United States with over a million users. All of whom look up to the popular athletes and strive to be like them, resulting in the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Stanozolol is one of many anabolic steroids that comes with harmful side effects that can be life-threatening. As stated by David Baron, David Martin, and Samir MagD, from the Department of Psychiatry at Temple University, “The serious side effects of steroids described in the medical literature include liver function abnormalities, liver and kidney tumors, endocrine and reproductive dysfunctions, testicular atrophy, lipid, and cardiac effects and psychiatric symptoms” ( Baron, Martin, MagD, 2007). These are the most serious side effects associated with the usage of anabolic steroids, while other well-known and widely used steroids like human growth hormones (HGH) and Erythropoietin (EPO) come with a variety of other health risks and side effects that have permanent life-altering effects or cost the life of an athlete. Although these side effects are related to specific drugs, young athletes often receive doses of these drugs from friends, strangers they meet at the gym, or people around their neighborhood. The availability of such drugs is shocking because these young athletes do not know exactly what they are putting into their bodies and there is a lack of regulation for these drugs, which may increase the likelihood of disease or even fatality.

The world anti-doping agency, also known as WADA, is in direct affiliation with the International Olympic Committee in making anti-doping in sport decisions. This organization is made up of 38 members and is equally of national government representatives and international Olympic committee representatives. WADA is an international organization that deals with Regional and National doping relations. They are at the forefront of the fight against performance-enhancing drugs. WADA has implemented many ways to combat doping including detection methods, fines, bans, and education programs. These three pillars of anti-doping are also known as Risk of Detection, Punishment, and Communication. This is what WADA has implemented so far and feedback from athletes and coaches have been relatively positive, according to Westmattelmann, from the University of Münster, “From the athlete’s perspective improved detection methods and the provision of more information on the health risks was

favored, followed by more frequent testing, whilst more severe punishment was not supported “ (Westmattelmann 2018). This survey that was taken among German athletes during the early 2000s supported the methods of searching for dirty athletes, except the severe punishments which included long bans or even lifetime bans. This is because it was so easy to get away with doping, especially with the lack of technology and knowledge that WADA had during the time. This was ironically the same year Pyros Dimas won gold at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, the most well-known weightlifter in the history of weightlifting. At the next summer Olympics in Athens, four weightlifters from Greece were caught taking performance-enhancing drugs and Pyros Dimas retired after receiving bronze in Athens. This fact shows that testing for performance-enhancing drugs will always evolve with the evolution of the drugs itself as shown here by Vlad, Robert Alexandru, from the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology in Tîrgu MureŞ, Romania, “ The fight against doping continues, but anti-doping agencies will always be one step behind manufacturers of new undetectable substances with pharmacological properties similar to those already available on the market (Vlad 2018). Although in 2019, performance-enhancing drugs are much easier to detect than in the early 2000s, there will always be drugs being invented and produced by companies around the world. WADA can’t detect which drugs will be abused before athletes get their hands on them. There is one solution to this doping dilemma, which is to completely ban an athlete from all international and national sporting events if caught using any sort of performance-enhancing drug. There should be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to this issue that affects the health and livelihood of the athletes and especially the upcoming youth. This no-questions-asked policy could maybe solve such a silly issue that is corrupting the sport that I love which is weightlifting. Another solution that could work is a separate league or committee for athletes who dope. This could be found in the sport of powerlifting where they have two major organizations, USAPL and USPA. USPA is a powerlifting committee that allows the use of knee wraps, which is an accessory that helps the lifter squat more weight, and it is a nondrug testing event. On the other hand, the USAPL is a drug-tested sanctioned meet, where they would randomly drug test athletes at competitions. This method can be implemented in all sports, but specifically for athletes who were previously banned or athletes who choose to risk their health to strike fame and fortune.

Nowadays, athletes, who were looked upon as supernatural freaks, end up on news headlines for huge doping scandals. It is routine at this point and something needs to be done. This affects millions of people, including myself, who participate in the Olympic sports, A once prestigious sport like Weightlifting is now on the brink of being excluded from the Olympic games as a whole. Entire countries, like Russia, are now also being threatened to be banned from the 2024 Paris Olympics for positive drug tests. Something has to be done and I feel like we are stuck in a never-ending cycle of performance-enhancing drug abuse. These athletes that we all look up to all question our human potential and force kids like myself, who strive to be like one of the great athletes we see on the platforms or fields, to resort to drugs to be one of the greats. PEDs are so prevalent in our day-to-day lives and are extremely tempting even for myself, where I’m constantly surrounded and affiliated with substance-abusing athletes. When lifts don’t go well or fatigue starts to settle in, performance-enhancing drugs are definitely in the back of my mind and the minds of millions of other young athletes around the world, especially if someone’s family, fame, wealth are on the line. This is an extremely dangerous world we live in, but I still have hope for our future. 

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