Doping is simply the use of a substance or technique to illegally improve performance in a sport. A substance may be drugs such as amphetamines or a technique such as autologous blood doping. Researchers claim that the reasons athletes dope is to improve and maintain physical functioning, cope with the social and psychological pressures and for financial gains.
Doping is certainly not a new issue. The earliest records of doping in sport date back to the ancient Olympic Games. Charmis, the Spartan winner of the stade race, which was a 183-metres race and the only event at the Olympic Games between 776 and 724 BC, used a diet of dried figs to improve performance. It is not surprising that today we make similar claims. It is hypothesized that Jamaican yams contribute to the dominance of Jamaica’s sprinters. Ancient Greeks were also the first to use alcohol as a stimulant during their training routine. The properties of the hormone testosterone were identified as animals were observed following castration. This led to the reports of consumption of animal and human tests to receive a performance boost. Roman Gladiators also used drugs to combat fatigue and injury. It is, however, not possible to say early athletes were doping, as, based on the definition, the action must be illegal. In ancient times, no laws prevented these attempts to improve performance.
With the development of modern pharmacology in the late 1800s, the types of drugs used to improve performance increased. Alcohol containing cordials, mixtures containing caffeine, sugar cubes dripped in ether and nitroglycerine were among mixtures used with the aim of improving performances. The literature suggests that the first doping-related death occurred around this time as English athlete Arthur Linton was alleged to have overdosed on ‘tri-methyl’ and died while competing in the 600km bicycle race in 1886. A few years later, Dr Charles Brown-Sequard published an article in The Lancet, where he described making subcutaneous injections of “the first blood of the testicular vein, semen and juice extracted from a crushed testicle of a dog or guinea pig.” There were significant improvements in physical ability following these injections. Performance-enhancing drugs in the early 1900s included primarily stimulants and alcohol. The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) banned the use of stimulants in track and field in 1928. During the same period, testosterone was isolated and its chemical properties were established. Kearns et al., 1942 recorded and published the first case of testosterone use in competition. An 18-year-old horse was given 525 mg of testosterone which significantly improved the horse’s performance, leading to many victories.
The use of stimulants such as amphetamines to improve athletic performance began as early as the 1930s. Its use became even more prevalent in sports such as cycling in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to the death of English cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967. He died during the televised Tour de France race due to an overdose of methamphetamine. That same year, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution against doping in sport and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created a Medical Commission to fight doping in sport. The implementation, however, started in 1960 following the death of Danish cyclist Knut Jensen in the Olympic Games. Knut’s trainer had apparently given him a vasodilator for a performance increase. In 1967, FIFA (football), UCI (cycling) and UIPM (pentathlon) started the compilation of a list of substances banned in their specific sport. The IOC then issued their first list of banned substances for the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble and Mexico. The first world conference on Doping in Sport was convened in 1999 by the IOC and this led to the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA now publishes an updated prohibited list annually that becomes effective on January 1 each year.
Anti-doping in sport is established not only to create a more level playing field but to prevent athletes from taking extreme measures to win, which may lead to harm to themselves or others. Doping is a major public health concern. Doping is not only an individual crime; countries pursued state-sponsored doping in the 1970s and 1980s.
There is even a very current case of state-sponsored doping for which an entire county was sanctioned. In his book Death in the Locker Room: Drugs & Sports, 1992, Robert Goldman reveals that when he asked elite athletes if they would take drugs that would guarantee wins, even if it would kill them in five years, approximately half of the athletes indicated they would take the drugs. There were 24 reported doping violations at the Athens Olympic Games, after the establishment of WADA. This demonstrates the sacrifices and risks athletes would take to win and as such validates the need for doping control.
• Dr Aldeam Facey is attached to the Mona Academy of Sport and can be reached at email@example.com.