The first major reason for the use of PEDs is that flawed testing makes an athlete’s chances of getting caught slim. Statistics from Pope’s survey show that doping is obviously very widespread within the sport however hardly any athletes get caught (1-2%). This must reflect how poor the tests for these banned substances are. So what is the current doping testing system and why is it so easy to cheat this system?
The UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) coordinates the UK’s testing programme across more than 40 sports (including athletics) in accordance with the International Standard for Testing and Investigations. The UKAD has responsibility for the collection and transportation of samples to a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory for testing.
The UKAD website states that ‘Any UK athletes subject to the anti-doping rules of their sport and non-UK athlete staying, training, residing, entering a competition, or named as a member of a team participating in a competition at any level within the UK is eligible for testing as part of UKAD’s national anti-doping programme. Any athlete eligible for testing can be tested anytime, anywhere.’
In-competition testing occurs in the period beginning 12 hours before competition starts until the end of the event and its sample collection process. The UKAD or the relevant event organizer will select athletes for testing (this will almost always include any athlete who has supposedly broken a world or national record – a negative test result is needed in order to make their new record valid).
Testing can also occur outside of competition for athletes selected to participate in a Registered Testing Pool. Those nominated for inclusion in a testing pool like the NRTP (National Registered Testing Pool)or the DTP(Domestic Testing Pool) will be notified by UKAD and will be required to supply details of their whereabouts so they can be found at any time to provide a sample for testing.
There are various methods which athletes can use to cheat the tests but the most common methods include: urine replacement (replacing your urine with the urine from someone who is not taking banned substances) and diuretics (taken to clean your body of drugs before you provide a sample). Blood transfusions are often used to cheat test as they are an undetectable method to increase the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity, in turn increasing endurance without the presence of drugs that could trigger a positive test result. As well as these methods athletes can avoid being tested during training periods, by making themselves unavailable. However, if intended doping tests can’t be carried out, three times during a year, because the athlete couldn’t be found it is considered a doping violation.
Thomas Hildebrandt is a performance-enhancement researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He believes the big problem with testing is the timing. Although athletes can be tested at any time (potentially years in advance of a major competition like the Olympics) due to the expenses of drug tests, most tests are administered close to competition date. Athletes and coaches are aware of this so make sure to finish their doping programmes early, before they’re at high risk of being tested. Hildebrandt explains that drugs taken in small doses during the off-season can be almost impossible to detect in urine samples a year or more later, but the performance-enhancing effects will still be felt by the competitor.
He says that along with clever timing, athletes also have the ongoing evolution of doping drugs on their side: WADA officials cannot test for a performance-enhancing drug they’ve never seen before. The tests will always be one step behind the perpetrators. Anabolic steroids – the most common form of performance-enhancing substance among athletes, according to a 2017 WADA report – are a good example of this. The androgen receptors in the body are targeted by steroids, they bind with hormones like testosterone to promote muscle growth. However, there are hundreds of chemicals that can be created in a lab to target the androgen receptors but they won’t show up on the traditional test – because officials have to know a drug exists before they go looking for it.
Hildebrandt believes it is for these two reasons that the tests are unsuccessful in catching cheats and the reason why ‘you will continue to have people who are willing to take the risks to game the system.’ In summary, the low risk of getting caught makes doping more appealing thus more widespread in athletics leading many athletes to develop the mentality that if everyone does it so should they, this mentality causes the numbers of drug takers to rise as athletes conform to what they feel must be the majority so must be acceptable in order to give them a fair chance. This makes instances of doping inevitable in the sport as it is already corrupt and leads some to argue that we might as well legalise it.