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A Call for Integrity of Doping in Endurance Sports

Last updated on January 4th, 2020 at 07:17 pm

By Joshua Davood

In 1889, baseball pitcher Jim Galvin consumed an elixir consisting of animal testosterone, becoming the first case of doping in modern sports. Since then, doping and the use of banned substances in sports has expanded and is now becoming much more prevalent. Many of these drugs used for doping were formulated for medical reasons, but have also been found out to give an advantage when given in higher doses. Generally, blood doping has been favored by endurance athletes, but other substances such as cannabis are also used. To combat these advances, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was formed in 1999. WADA has made astounding progress in their mission by creating doping tests which have been adopted by sporting events such as the Olympics, primarily focusing on endurance athletes. Resultantly, this has stirred some controversy as there are people who support doping in hopes of seeing humans surpass records, such as faster times. Many believe that these drugs allow humans to enhance their performance to see their true potential at unnatural levels; however, doping and banned substance use in elite endurance athletes is unfair and must be stopped because it is prevalent in certain underdeveloped countries and it ruins the ethics and competitiveness of the game. Doping and banned substances have become the leading form of cheating in athletics and will continue to damage sports if it is not halted.

Firstly, doping and banned substances must be ended because underdeveloped countries are fueling doping in endurance athletes. These nations have shockingly poor protective measures against doping. Most of these nations are in Africa, where countries are famous for producing top-class endurance athletes, but also very little enforcement of doping rules and regulations. A very common drug that is utilized in these African nations is erythropoietin (EPO). EPO is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body that is responsible for the production of red blood cells. The hormone was put into a drug form to be distributed to those lacking red blood cells, EPO, can also be used by athletes, allowing them to produce extra red blood cells and receive more oxygen in their muscles. An individual may suspect that such a drug is heavily banned and its sales are terminated because of the incredible advantage it gives to those who consume it. However, the Guardian, the German broadcaster ARD, and Holland Media Combination launched a joint investigation in Ethiopia in 2017 where they studied a pharmacy nearby a national stadium. In their investigation, they informed, "In the space of 26 minutes, 9 phials of EPO were purchased . . . no questions were asked. No prescriptions were sought" (Kelner no page). This investigation highlights how an illegal drug is being sold with no question near one of the athletic facilities. Additionally, it exhibits the lack of anti-drug enforcement in these poor, underdeveloped nations because of its easy accessibility. The easy accessibility makes using the drug much more common, which is against the rules. WADA has implemented strict codes to prevent doping and nations such as Ethiopia are not complying with them. By doing so, they undermine all the work of the other nations to stop doping. Additionally, those who dope in these underdeveloped nations do not know their wrongdoings. The British Medical Journal published a study titled Football and doping: study of African amateur footballers which exhibited the prevalence of doping in Yaounde, Cameroon amongst elite, local, and female athletes. The study discovered that "Some 8% of all players admitted using cocaine in general" (Ama no page), highlighting the abnormally high amount of banned substance use. They also collected that "More than half (60%) of the total number of players declared not knowing about this substance [cocaine]" (Ama no page). This means that because most of the athletes do not know of cocaine, they do not know it is illegal or that it is bad. Therefore, once they are exposed to it they have no knowledge that they are committing something illegal. This is a result of the lack of teaching about banned substances by athletic organizations and associations. The state of not knowing gives athletes the green light to use banned substances as they are not aware of its corruption. Furthermore, these nations do not properly follow doping procedures. WADA has entailed doping tests in their anti-drug policies, but nations such as Kenya have not been complying. In an investigation launched by WADA titled Doping in Kenya, found a total of 138 Kenyan athletes guilty of doping. The type of test they took was unavailable, but the study found out that "Of those 131 athletes, only 13% (18 of 131) were caught by OOC [out of competition testing]. The overwhelming majority, 86% (113 of 131), were caught by IC [in competition] testing" (Unknown 5). Out of competition testing occurs during training when most athletes are in their home nations, and in competition testing occurs during events. The fact that most athletes were caught in IC testing exhibits how the testing procedures are poor or phony. If the testing procedures were correct and honest, most of the athletes would get caught in out of competition testing way before competitions. Therefore, the testing procedures are poor and phony. Poor and phony procedures are dishonest and have no spot in sports.

Secondly, doping must be stopped because it ruins the ethics and competitiveness of the game. In society, children are taught to win through dedication, playing fair, and working hard. The same applies to adults, especially in athletics. Therefore, when drugs are employed to give people advantages they didn't work for, the game becomes unfair. In February 2019, the National Center for Biotechnology Information published the study, Effects of EPO on Blood Parameters and Running Performance in Kenyan Athletes in which 20 athletes were given EPO injections of 50 IU·kg body mass to test the effect EPO has. The study concluded, "After rHuEpo administration, there was an . . . increase in V˙O2max and time trial performance" (Haile no page). Therefore, using drugs like these give an individual a direct advantage in endurance competitions. When these drugs are used, people gain an advantage that they don't deserve, an advantage they didn't work for unlike those who put their blood, sweat, and tears into becoming better. The apparent advantage of these drugs also takes away from the nature of sports, as sports are a place that values hard work and those who push themselves more than everyone else. The loss of integrity and reward for hard work strongly undermines the competitiveness of athletics. As doping usually occurs in poor, underdeveloped countries, many athletes are not wealthy. This leads some people to argue that many of these doping athletes must use some of these illegal drugs in order to get better and make a living in their sport; however, this argument is flawed because doping encourages bad ethics and gives an unfair advantage that can be achieved through other means. Not only is it possible to improve endurance without these illegal drugs, but there is also a way to mimic the exact effect that EPO has. A journal study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information titled Erythropoietin levels in lowlanders and high-altitude natives at 3450 m measured EPO levels of the trial members for 11 days. The study concluded that "Short or prolonged residency at HA [high altitude] is associated with increased secretion of EPO" (Basu no page). This study proved that there is a legal alternative to achieving the same effect as taking EPO as a drug. This leaves no excuse to take EPO as it is considered cheating when there is an alternative. Additionally, when EPO is used, the sports competitions become about who has a better pharmacist rather than who is better at their sport. This makes the game less competitive since someone who has worked hard to become great may be matched by someone undeserving which is unfair, as sports revolve around fairness and hard work. A true athlete knows that there are no shortcuts to becoming great.

In conclusion, athletes and those who enjoy sports must open their eyes to the corrupt use of banned substances and doping to be able to design a plan to put an end to the use of doping and banned substances and fix this unhealthy aspect of sports. Athletes are the most responsible to begin this, as they are the ones in the spotlight who set an example for other athletes and fans alike. WADA has developed the World-Anti Doping Code which has led to many significant advances in the fight against doping and banned substances that our constantly changing with no advances in doping. Athletes must follow these rules to make them effective and ensure fairness. Likewise, individuals must educate themselves about the WADA policies in order to ensure the same levels of fairness in recreational sports and to prevent harm against their bodies. Then, it also an individual’s job to support WADA and organizations that employ WADA’s codes to ensure that they are being complied with in all parts of the world. Supporting WADA not only grants them awareness towards their goal, but it also helps fund them to implement better doping testing and supervisors in non-complying nations such as the underdeveloped countries mentioned. Doping and banned substance use is ultimately unfair and must be stopped since it is prevalent in certain countries and ruins the competitiveness of sports. Why should something that creates an uneven playing ground exist in the world?

Works Cited

Ama, P F M. “Football and Doping: Study of African Amateur Footballers.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 4, 2003, pp. 307–310., doi:10.1136/bjsm.37.4.307.

Basu, Minakshi, et al. “Erythropoietin Levels in Lowlanders and High-Altitude Natives at 3450m.” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, vol. 78, no. 10, 2007, doi:10.3357/asem.2085.2007.

Haile, Diresibachew W., et al. “Effects of EPO on Blood Parameters and Running Performance in Kenyan Athletes.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 51, no. 2, 2019, pp. 299–307., doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001777.

Kelner, Martha. “Inside the Doping Hotspot of Ethiopia: Dodgy Testing and EPO over the Counter.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Aug. 2017, www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/aug/04/doping-hotspot-ethiopia-drug-testing-epo.

WADA. “Doping in Kenya.” World Anti Doping Agency, 2016, www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/final_public_report_on_kenya.pdf.