Do We Care About Drugs In Sport?

A 37-year-old athlete sustains a torn triceps muscle, which typically requires a 6-month recovery period to return to full fitness. However this man managed to recover in 10 weeks and play at a level higher than before his injury. He managed to end his illustrious career by leading his team to victory in the Super Bowl. This is the story of Ray Lewis, a defensive linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. As an appreciator of all sports, I love hearing stories like this.

However, despite my long illustrious career as an armchair critic, applauding these kinds of stories or shaking my fists at any sports star who happen to be caught doping, I think its time to wake up to reality.

This story echoes the greatest sports story ever manufactured by the former “King of Cycling,” Lance Armstrong. The only reason I ever stayed up so late to watch a bunch of blokes cycle round France for three weeks was to watch Lance crush his opposition. I enjoyed it so much because it was a great story. I bought his books, I bought a “Livestrong” bracelet and I bought into the story. I enjoyed arguing against the doubters and defended his honour with facts such as how he had a heart three times the size of us mere mortals or his ability to process lactic acid faster than others. However, when it was finally revealed the doubters were right, I started to think, “how could have I been so naïve?”

This is a new reality that now faces Australia after the ACC released a report into doping and match fixing in Australian sport. In our sporting history there doesn’t appear to be any comparable to the ones I described previously. If we delve deeper into the great performances of our super stars though, could there be in fact a dark side to the shining stories of success we all so crave? Despite the ACC’s announcement that there is no indication as to when or where doping has taken place, it not only calls into question some of our stars achievements in the big moments but the high quality game-to-game performances that we come to expect.

Upon reflection of the ‘Scandal that rocked a nation,’ I felt at ease as I contemplated some of the great sporting moments I had seen in Australian sport. Firstly, do we really care if someone was getting an advantage unless we found out? Equally in echoing the words of Wayne Bennett, what has ASADA been doing to ensure we do find out in the first place? For all sports fans it is time to reflect and consider whether we really want to look back in time and confront the dirty truth.

Finally but most controversially, we must ask the question why are certain drugs even banned? Are we banning the drugs because they are dangerous or because they give athletes an unfair advantage? If they weren’t banned then everyone could use them, so obviously there would be no unfair advantage. Therefore the question comes down whether the drugs, in fact, being used are dangerous. I contemplated the movie ‘Bigger, Faster, Stronger.’ The movie condones the use of anabolic steroids (a common Performance Enhancing Drug) with compelling evidence. It dispels any fears of the commonly known negative side effects such as ‘Roid Rage’ and psychosis, and despite the well known short-term side effects such as acne, small testes and random hair growth there doesn’t appear to be any detrimental long-term side effects. I also contemplated Wikipedia to ensure my article gave a balanced account of Anabolic Steroids. It contravened most of the arguments the movie claimed. So I guess its up to you to consider the facts? Consider the fact we allow sport stars to make their own decisions about other detrimental drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, party drugs (AFL players get three chances to consider whether its good for them) and a whole array of supplements that similarly enhance performance. Also, just for comparison, consider the use of cortisone (a well known steroid) is well accepted despite its well-known negative side effects.

We have to accept the reality that drugs are a part of sport but we fail to question whether there is anything wrong with it. Our opinions have been shaped by the media’s misinformed perception of the effects of drugs. With more information about PEDs we can form our own opinions about the moral question of drugs in sport that the media seems to have had a monopoly over since Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.