Ever since there has been competitive sports, people have been trying to find ways to get an advantage. As early as 776BC, athletes ingested sheep testicles (a source of testosterone) as an attempt to increase performance.
The first officially documented case of proven PED use (Performance Enhancing Drugs) was in 1954, when the Soviets dominated the World Weight Lifting Championships. They openly admitted to using testosterone injections during their preparation of the competition.
In the late 1960’s, the East Germans started a doping program which led them to dominating most large sporting events for the next 20 years. At that point, the International Olympic Council started a ban against all similar drugs in international competition.
Of course now we also know the consequences of the use of these drugs. When abusing these drugs or using them on a regular basis without a medical reason can lead to serious and possible fatal medical conditions. However, we know this about smoking and eating fatty foods as well. Surprisingly enough, people still smoke and obesity rates have never been higher! Is it the satisfaction which prevails, is it being naive or is it just wanting it so badly that it makes it worth it?
Several years ago when I moved to the US, everything was still pretty new. All of a sudden, the baseball testosterone scandal broke loose. What was shocking to me was not that there were players using PED’s, it was that the general public was so naive and surprised about it! The same about Lance Armstrong, of course he used illegal drugs. But especially at that time, everyone else did as well.
In professional sports, there is so much money involved which also leads to superior medical staff members, lots of cover up and lots of bribing. Can you honestly believe there is no performance enhancing drugs in cycling, tennis, football, weight lifting but also billiard, sport shooting etc.? There are many drugs out there for many different purposes, whether it’s getting stronger, bigger OR being able to focus better, have steadier hands, cut more weight etc. And yes there is testing but it’s all about beating the tests and staying one step ahead… And the next step might just be tissue doping or genetic manipulation. After all, Anti Doping agencies all over the world already fear they may not be able to detect this through urine or blood sampling (according to the Austrian Anti Doping Agency).
Now what about amateur sports? There is FAR less money involved, less medical staff, less guidance and less professionalism. There is also less testing (although some professional sports are ridiculously low in testing).
You would think PED’s are much less common, unfortunately that is not the case. I am sure statistically they are lower (you would hope so), however they are still very common. When doing cycling races, I was fully aware these practices were going on around me and suspensions happened all the time (cycling is the most tested sport in Belgium even though soccer is more popular). Actually when you Google ‘Doping in Amateur Sports’, the first results will all be about cycling. That is not because it’s the most problematic sports, it is simply because it’s mostly tested.
A few years ago I read an article about the European championship Bodybuilding for amateurs. When unexpectedly the Anti Doping Agency arrived, everyone fled and nobody competed. Another article I read discussed the ‘raids’ on gyms in Belgium which led to 1 positive test out of every 3 tested attendees. However you have to wonder, which gyms did they go to (did they already have a bad reputation) and were the people who were tested picked randomly or based on subjective suspicion? Either way, doping in amateur sports and even regular gym attendees is a serious problem. Some say it is because amateur sports are too competitive, in some cases it’s also a stepping stone to professional sports. Maybe it’s because people just want to look better or perform better for themselves (or others). Who knows? Reality is, it will never stop no matter what Anti Doping Agencies do. We simply have to educate people better as to the potential damages and consequences. If you just want to look and feel good, it is really not necessary! With discipline, hard work and proper nutrition you can accomplish more than most people think! However it requires focus, discipline and effort. Maybe that’s why some individuals prefer the shortcuts? Using PEDs is extremely dangerous (even regular supplements can be as well) and can compromise your health long term. Even if you do, the results will disappear as quickly as they got there…
One last things – perhaps out of context but an interesting note – as an athlete who may be tested you have to be extremely careful. Regular cough medicine, anti fever pills, lotions etc. may be on the anti doping list! They have ingredients which are not allowed and can be abused to enhance performance. If you are a competitive athlete, make sure your doctor prescribes you a different medicine or gives you a letter approving it for you (every country and organization has different rules though).
My advice? Practice your sport for the right reasons and put your health first. After all, you can’t buy time.
By Sander Vanacker for FitGuana
Sander Vanacker is a personal trainer, CEO of Bring Back Nature, Inc. and founder of FitGuana. He believes in improving health and wellness by incorporating more nature into our lives, being active and spending more time outdoors.