Look at the staff on football teams and it looks like half the coaching team seem to have degrees in sports science. Nutritionists and diet specialist, physios, biomechanical experts, psychologists all now play a role in elite sport activity. Clearly, we’ve strayed very far from the idea of sport as an activity based on the innate individual ability.

Ben Johnson at Seoul Olympics 1988. Picture: Popperfoto

With all the emphasis on science, why then do we demonise some scientific breakthroughs that have been proven to enable sports people to reach their potential? I’m talking, of course, about the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Let’s face it: sport is about exploring the limits of human potential. Ingenuity, innovation, and knowledge about what make us faster and stronger—and avoiding what might do more harm than good—has always been part of sport.

It would be much easier to eliminate the anti-doping rules than to eliminate doping. The current policy against doping has proved expensive and difficult to police. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) spent $9,318,880 on 7,498 blood and urine tests, 32 investigations, and the analysis of 1,614 Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs. A total of 29 athletes and support personnel placed on the Register of Findings (RoF) during the reporting year. In the 2009–10 Budget, the Australian Government approved $54.5 million over four years for ASADA activities.

While some may claim that performance enhancers are cheating, the truth is that most of us use them. It’s just that they come out of a bottle or a glass and are served with ice. Alcohol, for example, is the most widely used psychoactive substance in Australia with 1.3 million Australians consuming alcohol daily. Alcohol misuse is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.

Steroids, and synthetic substances similar to testosterone, can be as benign as those that are commonly prescribed for allergies, and as harmful as those that have sent many into physical decline. As with any medication, the effects depend on the dose and frequency of use.

For the most part, however, the only thing bad about steroids is that they may improve athletic performance. Somehow, we have decided that the only hardworking professionals who should not be permitted to enhance their performances are athletes.

People take dietary supplements that act as steroid precursors without any knowledge of the dangers associated with their abuse. Dietary supplements are sold in health food stores, and over the Internet. More than 60 per cent of Australians take supplements, and 27 per cent of Australian women, and 15 percent of men, take a dietary supplement.

Many people no doubt believe that these supplements will produce the same desired effects as steroids, but at the same time avoid the medical consequences associated with using steroids. This belief is dangerous. Supplements may also have the same medical consequences as steroids.

Sports people have always looked for an edge, and why wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you consider taking some substance if it potentially made you better?
Especially if you were in a profession where the average salary was in the millions, and you knew that many other workers in your field might possibly be getting an advantage over you.

It is time to admit that not all steroids are dangerous and that every individual and every situation cannot be addressed with the same set of rigid rules.
The prohibition on doping puts pressure on making performance-enhancers undetectable, rather than safe. They are produced or bought on the black market, and administered in a clandestine, uncontrolled way with no monitoring of the athlete’s health. Allowing the use of performance enhancers would make sport safer as there would be less pressure on athletes to take unsafe enhancers.

Instead of banning steroids, we should control them. Rather than drive doping underground, the use of drugs should be permitted under medical supervision.

Most commented


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    • Denny Crane says:

      07:53am | 14/09/10

      George, we could then have similiar awards, the pharmacutical company which produces the most gold medalists, who use thier steriods, imagain the increase in thier shares.

      People going into chemists, thats steriod the hundred gold medalist is on.

      Putting that aside, i agree let them be on the gear, at the moment we have people who are, but just dont get caught, no matter what sport it is, people want to win, and will cheat no matter what rule is in place

    • Bob H says:

      07:56am | 14/09/10

      Body building has competitions that are labelled clean, which implies other events probably are not.  Have a ‘free for all’ Olympics and a clean Olympics, I know which one I would watch, give me gross and stupid over noble anyday

    • Macca says:

      07:58am | 14/09/10

      Just because you legalise some drugs / steroids, does not mean athletes will not try to continue to push the envelope and use drugs that are still illegal.

      Performance enhancing drugs are illegal because the side-effects of these “breakthroughs” are not known until many years, even decades, after the athlete has taken the drug.

      FloJo is the obvious example of this. Nobody wants to see a generation of sporting stars leave this earth before their time because of some scientist’s misguided ambitions.

      Many of those involved with sport with science degrees are their to help maintain and protect athletes from poor health, be it physical, dietry or mental. If you are a club doctor, yur job is to care, not harm.

    • Macca says:

      10:25am | 14/09/10

      ahh.. typing fail makes me look like an illiterate bogan; your* job

    • chris says:

      04:29pm | 14/09/10

      Nah, Macca. Bogan fail would have been to use “you’re”.

    • Ryan says:

      08:33am | 14/09/10

      Ask the professional wrestling world how performance enhacing drugs help their stars.  Professional Wrestlers probably have a worse life expectancy than indigenous australians!

    • AFR says:

      09:16am | 14/09/10

      Are you implying “professional wrestling” is some sort of sport? smile

    • Justin says:

      09:55am | 14/09/10

      On Saturday I watched a rugby league semi-final where 3 different players went up the tunnel during the match accompanied by a bloke wearing latex gloves & a medical kit box. All 3 were clearly no longer fit to continue the match, but 5 minutes later, they were back on the bench & eventually re-entered the fray. Magic sponge? Ahh, no. Pain killing injections.

      Did the injections improve their performance over what it would have been if they were fully fit? No. Did they improve their performance over what it would have been at the time without the injection? Absolutely.

      By arguing that the baseline of performance is higher than when injured, these aren’t deemed performance enhancing. If you can’t get on the field without it, then it’s enhanced your performance. Double standard.

    • BR says:

      10:45am | 14/09/10

      Why not; let’s just allow all performance enhancing drugs in sport, pump the athletes full of em, when they blow up at the finish line, get a new one.

    • stephen says:

      11:01am | 14/09/10

      Mate, doping already is underground.
      It’s called ‘slug-bait’.

      If these ‘stars’ wanna get all the perks that comes with running, jumping and splashing in water, then let’em do it under the auspices of a word you left out in the third paragraph, character.

    • Mich says:

      12:17pm | 14/09/10

      Pain killing injections should be banned as well. I am sick of hearing how hard, tough & courageous a sportsman is when he is on the filed after an injection.

      Joe Hopeless in the street can be tough & courageous after pain killing injections.

      I wish people would not use the words “performance enhancing” as last time I looked at the WADA list there was no term, they just list the drugs as “stimulants”

    • Joshua says:

      12:28pm | 14/09/10

      Blood doping involves removing blood, spinning out the hemoglobin or red blood cells (which carry oxygen to muscles) and readministering it back into the athlete’s blood stream. Some pro-cyclists, pushed by teams and those paying the bills to be succesful put so many red blood cells back that their blood turns to a paste with the viscosity of honey or golden syrup. The lucky ones excercise every few hours to keep their heart pumping, the unlucky die as blood congeals in their veins.
      You leagalise any kind of doping in sport and open the door to pharmaceutical companies profiting when their drug wins gold medals. These days athletes retire at 20-25 because constant training stops them having a family or a career, ideas as stupid as this will have them retiring at 25 because they die.
      Also, as if that wasnt enough, what happens to the African runners who have no money to buy the best drug? Or eastern European gymnasts unable to pay doctors to correctly administer the drugs? You really want sport dominated by people like Cousins?

    • Pipes says:

      12:45pm | 14/09/10

      I have been saying this for years. let’s just see how fast, high, long, strong we can go.
      also, the olympics could be like F1, with a “Contructor’s Championship” being handed out for the country whose scientists produce the most medals

    • Sickemrex says:

      03:27pm | 14/09/10

      The only bad thing about steroids is they may improve athletic performance?  In whose humble opinion?  Sexual, liver, heart and psychological problems are all linked to steroid use, or abuse whichever you want to call it.

      The analogy between enhanced performance and community use of alcohol is poor, the only activity alcohol enhances is storytelling, and possibly pool at certain doses.

      As much as I enjoy motorsport, I know that much of the time the man (occasionally woman!) is only slightly more than incidental to machine, would you really want to make all sport like that?

      And I think that more than “some” would claim that perfomance enhancing drugs are cheating.  A very unconvincing argument all round.

    • Pete M says:

      03:46pm | 14/09/10

      Let them do it…
      Then use the money we save on drug testing to pay teachers more…
      So we have better teachers…
      And society can better educate our kids on why they shouldn’t do it.

    • stephen says:

      09:35pm | 14/09/10

      How come none of you geniuses were not talking about these dangers on this site3 days ago when the unfortunate recipients were our working class (mostly) kids ?
      Huh ?

    • Leon says:

      09:06am | 15/09/10

      I certainly don’t disagree with medically appropriate PEDs being supplied to the general public.  HOWEVER (and it’s a big *however*) the only thing I’m unsure about is if you make it legal, then up & coming young playas [sic] will think it’s alright?  I think if you’re injured or need them for theraputic reasons then why not, as things like HGH are prescribed to celebrities as a general ‘tonic’, although we still really don’t know conclusively what effects steroids and the like would have?

      I guess the problem with that is if you make them generally available (in the same manner as supplements, for example) then you may see adverse health effects in the population.

      As a cyclist who covers thousands of K’s a month but has never used anything more sinister than energy gels, I may be tempted to give some form of HGH a go because of the benefits to me as an individual outweigh the consequences according to my perception and value system.  However, from a societal perspective, you would probably expect to see an increased rate of death and hospitalisation of people like me:  rank amateurs who took unnecessary PEDs, in unsupervised doses, who derived no societal benefit but at tremendous social cost.  This is highly undesirable.

      Alternatively, if PEDs become readily available by prescription only, you’d see the rise of Doctor-shopping until people find someone who will give them what they want, while others would be discouraged from casual use?  And although you’d still have the societal issues as above, this would probably be the preferred option.  As @Denny Crane said above, let them all be on the gear to level the playing field.

      Everyone can already see sports where drugs are common - bodybuilding for example - that effectively have two leagues: doping and non-doping.  In bodybuilding circles there are those competitions where drugs are officially banned but every competitor uses them and nobody much cares.  Then there are other competitions where drug testing is mandatory and rigorous. 

      This seems to have worked fairly well for their sport, but I’m not sure whether it would work for more mainstream sports like cycling or football?


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