Doping is the use of banned substances to enhance performance. In the sporting world, we have heard of countless cases where athletes and other sportsmen were involved in doping.
The recent of all is the Nigerian athlete, Blessing Okagbare who was slammed with a 10-year ban by the Athletic Integrity Unit (AIU) for involving in prohibited substances to enhance her performance.
Doping dates back to the beginning of sports and a lot of athletes have gotten away with it. We only hear of a few stories because these sets of people were unlucky.
Now, even with the whole awareness campaign against the use of performance enhancers in sports, we still find sportsmen engaging in the act. Why is there doping in sports? Is it that sportsmen and sportswomen don't know about the rules of doping or do they feel it's a way to be ahead of their opponents?
In this article, we shall be exploring the issue of doping in sports and why there are still cases of doping despite the constant calls for sportsmen and sportswomen to desist from it.
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What are the Performance Enhancers People are Using?
Of all the performance Enhancing Drugs used by athletes, the most commons are androgenic agents such as anabolic steroids. The functions of these substances are to help athletes recover quickly from fatigue, train harder, and build more muscles.
Although this sounds nice when you look from a shallow point of view, these enhancers can make one aggressive and even cause kidney failures. Other consequences of doping include low sperm count, baldness, deepened voices for ladies, and increased facial hair.
There are different ways these anabolic steroids are taken. Some take them as tablets while others inject them directly into their muscles. In some cases, some athletes mix the drugs with their body cream and apply it to the skin.
Apart from androgenic agents, some stimulants help athletes overcome fatigue by pumping more blood to the heart. While these stimulants can keep you sharp and alert, they can be addictive, and in extreme cases, can cause heart failure.
In sports like horse racing and boxing, diuretics and masking agents are common and are used to get rid of fluid from the body. Removing fluid from the body can either help to hide other drug use or help competitors in horse racing and boxing to make the weight.
Cannabinoids and narcotic analgesics can also help to reduce the pain from fatigue or injury. However, this practice can go awry and make fatigue or injuries worse. These substances are also addictive and can cause severe damage to organs through prolonged use.
Oxycodone and morphine are prohibited in sports but codeine is allowed.
Peptide hormones such as erythropoietin (EPO) are other enhancers that tend to increase red blood cell count and give sportsmen and sportswomen more energy. Then there is human growth hormone (HGH) which helps to build muscles.
Although less common, blood doping is another practice that is banned by sports disciplinary committees. The process involves removing blood from the body and injecting it back later to increase oxygen and energy level.
Other band substances in sports include glucocorticoids - which mask severe injury due to their anti-inflammatory properties, and beta-blockers - which help to prevent heart attack and regulate blood pressure.
There are more banned substances for athletes on the IAAF website but some athletes still find themselves going against the rule.
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What makes Doping a Big Deal in Sports?
When it comes to sporting activities, the safety of the athletes is given special priority. Doping is a big deal in sports because it exposes dopers to harmful and chronic conditions that may include the following:
Heart Failure: Irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, high blood pressure, and sudden death
Respiratory challenges such as nose bleeding and sinusitis.
Hormonal problems such as infertility, decreased testicular size, cancer, gynecomastia (enlarged breast), low sex drive, and acromegaly (coarse bones in hands, face, and feet).
Central Nervous System challenges such as depression, insomnia, suicide, aggressive behaviour, psychosis, addiction with withdrawal, stroke, dizziness, anxiousness, headache, and tremor.
Apart from these health-related and psychological challenges, doping tends to kill the spirit of sportsmanship. Using these drugs help athletes to gain an unfair advantage, leaving other athletes demoralized and feeling less competitive.
To help protect the health of sportsmen and sportswomen and to maintain fairness in sports, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) introduced the anti-doping program.
Can Dopers Beat the Anti-Doping Program?
Of all the blood and urine tests the World Anti-Doping Agency run on thousands of Olympic athletes every year, only about 1 - 2 per cent of samples test positive for banned substances. Could this be the actual percentage of athletes using performance enhancers? A big no!
In a survey conducted on thousands of world-class amateur athletes, an estimate of 57 per cent admitted to using performance enhancers. This is a huge number when compared to the mere 1 to 2 per cent WADA gets yearly.
Now, according to WADA, it suggests that a good number of athletes may be beating the anti-doping program. And even though the act could be for better or worse, it is seen as cheating. So, what makes it easy for athletes to be a step ahead?
After looking at all the possible scenarios for cheating, the major problem lies in TIMING! For WADA to detect any banned substance in athletes, the test must be carried out at the right time.
While it is true that anti-doping tests can be done even years before the next competition, the tests can be pretty expensive. For this reason, most of the testing is done much close to when the competition commences.
Since athletes are aware of this, they can do their doping way before they become at high risk of testing positive. If an athlete takes drugs in bits during the off-season, it is very rare to detect it via urine test after a few years. However, the athlete still has the effects of the drugs.
Also, doping can help athletes build muscles years before the completion starts and the muscles will remain. Therefore, it suffices to say that testing positive for a banned substance happens when you take the drugs close to the competition.
The History of Doping
The term doping was coined from the Dutch word "dop." It means an alcoholic beverage made from grapes and used in ancient times by Zulu warriors for strength and vitality during wars.
In terms of sports, the Ancient Greeks were the first to engage in doping. Athletes were involved in all manner of substances to stay ahead in sporting competitions. Some consumed sheep's testicles to gain testosterone, others indulged in cocaine, strychnine, alcohol and caffeine.
However, all these substances were consumed not because these athletes had the intention to cheat. They did it just to help themselves gain more strength.
During the 1904 Olympic marathon, Thomas Hicks won the competition. Findings showed that he took raw eggs, doses of brandy, and injections of strychnine.
Fast forward to the 20th century, doping was introduced into sports, particularly in racehorses. It was referred to as the illegal use of drugs for racehorses. In modern-day sports, the IAAF was the first international sporting body to ban performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
The first doping test was introduced in 1966 for the cycling and football world championships. As for the Olympics, the first doping test was in 1968. Thereafter, other international sporting bodies followed suit.
Doping and Controversies Surrounding it
Below are some Nigerian athletes that were banned from sporting activities because they tested positive for illegal drugs:
- Blessing Okagbare: She was slammed with a 10-year ban for several doping infractions
- Adeloye Tosin: She was guilty of anabolic steroid Methenolone in 2012 at the National Sports Festival in Lagos
- Azike Henry: In 2012, Henry was banned for life for testing positive for illegal drugs for the second time.
- Chukwuemeka Vivian: Vivian was a renowned Shot Put player in Nigeria. She got a lifetime ban for failing the doping test
- Nathaniel Glory Onome: She specialized in 400m hurdle and represented Nigeria on several occasions. However, he failed the doping test as stanozolol was found in his system.
- Odele Tega: Odele came into the limelight at the 18th Nigerian National Sports Festival. However, he failed a drug test in 2019 and would only be available to compete again in 2023.
In the foreign scene, below are some of the athletes that were charged with doping:
- Ben Johnson: In 1988, he was stripped of his medal for failing the dipping test. In that same year, Carl Lewis also tested positive for illegal substances but wasn't stripped of his medal
- Lance Armstrong: Armstrong received a heavy blow in 2012 when he was stripped of all his titles and awards since 1998
- Russian athletes: In 2015, Russian athletes were banned from international competitions because their medical team tried to cover up doping-related issues.
These are just a few of the doping cases that have been recorded and there are controversies in some of the cases. Would there be a way to get rid of doping in sports? Well, this may take decades of debate to conclude.
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