The scourge of doping

sportingworldblockThis week I want to continue to look at the Olympics and all the hype, some good, and definitely some bad.

Enter doping and the many, many, issues with it leading up to the Rio Olympics 2016.

Interestingly, we are always surprised when athletes are discovered ‘doping’ but in a recent conversation a friend of mine who is an MD said “the list of banned substances seem so vast”. Seemingly unless you are 100 per cent healthy your chances of testing positive are way up there “most prescription meds have ingredients that are on the list.”

With this in mind, is there really any surprise that athletes (and to be fair some of the time their staff without their knowledge) are looking for ways to go faster, jump higher, run longer, and recover quicker?

Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Now before you get out your rope and round up a posse for the lynching, all I am saying is that I believe there should be an outlet for those athletes who feel the need to push their bodies to the edge of what is physically possible.

Definitely the Olympics is not the place for this and I respect and admire and aspire to all the ideals enshrined in this institution. But imagine how entertaining the first six seconds 100 metre dash would be or the first 150 metre javelin throw. Maybe these athletes should have a space created for this kind of competition and once all the waivers are signed and the insurance is paid up, let the PED Games begin.

Getting back to Rio 2016.

About 24 athletes tested positive in reanalysis of their doping samples from the 2012 London Olympics, adding to the more than 30 already caught in retesting from the 2008 Beijing Games.

Britain’s Goldie Sayers is among several athletes not comfortable competing beside known doping violators.
Britain’s Goldie Sayers is among several athletes not comfortable competing beside known doping violators.

The IOC confirmed recently 23 athletes from five sports and six countries had positive findings in retests with improved techniques on 265 samples from the London Games.

The athletes, their sports or their nationalities were not detailed.

The IOC stores Olympic doping samples for 10 years so they can be reanalyzed when new testing methods become available and overall, up to 55 athletes from the past two Summer Olympics could be retroactively disqualified and have their results, and any medals, stripped.

The current retesting programme targeted athletes who could be eligible to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

Athletes, their national Olympic committees and their international sports federations were being informed ahead of formal disciplinary proceedings.

The IOC retested 454 samples from Beijing. Of those original 31 positives, the Russian Olympic Committee confirmed that 14 involved Russian athletes.

On Thursday, May 12, The New York Times published an exposé detailing an alleged wide-reaching doping scandal involving urine swaps, massive testing cover-ups and deeply entrenched conspiracies within the Russian government itself.

According to the report, the doping scheme involved dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including at least 15 medal winners.

At present, the nation’s athletics team may not be permitted to compete at this summer’s Olympic games; the decision will be made by the World Anti Doping Agency on June 17 (see sidebar for the Russian Doping Scandal Explained).

Russia’s reaction to the entire mess has veered from defiance to striking a conciliatory note. The damning report was dismissed as relying upon “unverified sources” by Russian sports officials at first. But as the scale of the damage mounted, the country’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko apologised for the scandal in a column he wrote and pleaded for Russian athletes to be allowed to compete at the Olympics, arguing that “Russia was doing everything possible to eradicate the problem”.

Recent revelations have led to calls from various British and American athletes to keep Russia out of the competition. British javelin thrower Goldie Sayers even went to the extent of saying that she would consider boycotting the Olympics if the ban on Russia was provisionally lifted. Hence, any decision the IAAF takes on June 17 is likely to have far-reaching consequences.

The doping problem, however, is not restricted to Russia alone. Last month, Wada declared that Kenya’s anti-doping programme remained non-compliant. This was after the country, which topped the medals table at the 2015 World Athletics Championships, had missed two deadlines issued to it to comply with the world anti-doping agency code.

Like Russia, there has been widespread evidence that doping is rampant in the African country, with more than 40 athletes failing drug tests since 2011, and 18 serving bans. Dick Pound, the former Wada president, had even gone on record to say that it was “pretty clear that there are a lot of performance-enhancing drugs in Kenya”.

However, there may still be a reprieve. Faced with the very real threat that they would be banned from the Olympics, the Kenyan government made significant changes to its anti-doping legislation, which it hopes will satisfy Wada.

Russia and Kenya are not the only countries affected with this doping menace. In fact, they are only the tip of the iceberg. In April, China’s anti-doping agency was suspended by Wada for four months for submitting negative results. Back in February, a Chinese sports journalist claimed that China’s athletes had confided in him that they were part of a state-sponsored doping programme.

Consequently, there has already been considerable discussion on what would happen if the IAAF went through on its threat and banned Russia (and possibly even Kenya) from competing at the Olympics. Those against such a ban argue that innocent untainted athletes would be punished through no fault of theirs.

Yelena Isinbayena, a Russian pole-vaulter widely considered as among the greatest in her sport, is a prime example – the two-time Olympic gold medallist has accused the world body of being discriminatory against Russian athletes and warned that she would take legal recourse if she was not allowed to participate.

Not to be left out a Jamaican athlete is among those who have failed a doping test after samples were re-examined from the 2008 Beijing Olympic games in the wake of a drugs scandal, sources familiar with the case have intimated. The athlete has returned an adverse analytical finding for the A-sample and the result of the B-sample test is expected from the Wada accredited laboratory in Lausanne within days, the sources said.

Jamaica Olympic Association president Michael Fennell declined comment, while Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association president Dr. Warren Blake told Reuters his organisation had not been notified of any rule violation.

The furore has cast a long shadow over the Rio Olympics, which has also been affected by the outbreak of the Zika virus. As the opening ceremony approaches, it is clear that the world of international sport will be anything but calm in the next two months. However, one can argue that the steps taken were necessary – doping has affected international sport for far too long, and drastic measures were necessary to stamp it out.

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