20 March 2017 0 Comments

Doping in amateur sport

The BBC have pushed hard a report that they commissioned into doping in amateur sport. On the face of it the kind of figures that they are quoting are extraordinary and alarming. 50% of the 1000 sportspeople that they questioned believed that doping was widespread. Everyone asked in the survey apparently was either a member of a gym, a sports club or on a sports team. Other standout figures include:

  • 45% of cyclists know someone who has used performance enhancing drugs;
  • 14% of cyclists have used steroids.

And there are plenty of other eye-popping stats in the report linked to above.

The main problem for amateur sport is that participants can take part safe in the knowledge that, short of being discovered and outed by someone, the chances of being caught are vanishingly remote because organised anti doping does not exist at an amateur level. Cases where an athlete has been caught have usually been down to intelligence, such as in the example of Ian Edmonds who was banned for four years for refusing to submit to a blood test. He was caught by UK Border Force seizing a parcel of steroids and testosterone addressed to him. But such cases are extraordinarily rare across all sports compared with amateur participant numbers.

Is the picture really as bad as this report would suggest? It’s undeniable that some sports, such as body building have long had a bad reputation for steroid abuse among amateurs with the gym culture being a significant contributor and I think it’s significant that half the people questioned were gym members rather than sports club members. Rugby, too, with its obsession with power and bulk features heavily on the banned list of athletes among the pro ranks and therefore may well have issues percolating down to an amateur level. Lots of rugby players push weights in gyms as part of their training where the impact of steroids in bulking up muscle has been well understood for may years. Cycling obviously has a long history of doping and it’s reasonable to suppose that in the higher levels of the amateur ranks where riders are trying to get noticed there might well be issues with drugs. The trouble is, this report doesn’t appear to differentiate between top level amateurs and “weekend warriors”.

I’m currently in my 14th year of triathlon and have finished nearly 5o races. I’ve also done countless sportives, road runs and trail runs. In that time I have never come across any form of doping whatsoever; never been offered any product that could be construed as a PED (except the course of steroids I was given by my GP to get rid of a particularly bad asthmatic episode – and boy were they effective); and never seen anything that raised my suspicions. If the report was to be taken at face value, then over 30 of the people on the start line at the recent Jodrell Bank Sportive were on some kind of PED. I find this completely unbelievable. And the problem is that if people start to take equate reports like this with all sports people then many will be dissuaded from taking up sport altogether with all the societal health problems that will result from this further down the line.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just being naive…

photo credit: FatCatAnna Close up of 30 gauge needle – this syringe holds 30 units via photopin (license)
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