To compete and excel is part of human nature. In sporting activities, it has always driven young athletes to perform feats of ever-higher levels of strength, endurance, and speed. Most have achieved glory through relentless effort, physical training, and an iron will to be the best. Unfortunately, the pressure to be the best has also driven some to seek shortcuts to success, mainly through the use of performance enhancing drugs. Most users of drugs in sports justify their act by arguing that everyone is using drugs and it is necessary for them to do so in order to compete. To my mind the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports is simply "cheating" and no amount of "extenuating circumstances" justifies it. Moreover, most such drugs have serious long-term side effects and carry major health risks for the users. Hence, there should be zero tolerance for the use of such drugs in professional as well as amateur sports. Period.
History of Drug Use in Sports
People involved in sports have used performance-enhancing drugs since times immemorial. In ancient Greece for example, extracts of mushrooms and plant seeds are known to have been consumed by athletic competitors to enhance their performance. In the Roman period, when chariot races and gladiator fights were major sporting events, horses as well as gladiators were frequently 'doped' to run faster or fight more ferociously. ("History of Drugs in Sport," 2005) While sports lost some of its popularity in the ensuing centuries, it regained prominence in the 19th century following the industrial revolution. By the turn of the century, sports had become a worldwide source of entertainment and gradually achieved the status of "big business." The pressure to perform coupled with the availability of increasingly effective performance-enhancing drugs meant an escalation in drug use by competitors.
The first recorded death from drug-use in sports was in 1886 when a cyclist died from an overdose of trimethyl. In the 1904 Olympics, Thomas Hicks, a marathon runner from the U.S.A. collapsed after winning the race as he had used a mixture of brandy and strychnine to enhance "endurance." Despite these mishaps, the use of performance enhancing substances by athletes continued to be commonly accepted within the international sporting community. Coaches and sport administrators either turned a blind eye to the practice or were active participants in the proceedings. Drug use was reportedly rife at the 1952 Helsinki Games and at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics but was largely ignored at the official level. (Ibid.) By the mid-1950s, anabolic steroids had been invented and were massively abused by athletes to transcend their limits of natural ability active collaboration with coaches. The Soviet Union and the East Europeans were particularly guilty of tolerating or even promoting performance-enhancing drug use in order to underline the "superiority" of Communist countries in international sports.
Other famous examples of drug use in sports include the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson who was stripped of a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and was banned from track-and-field competition for life after he tested positive for steroids. More recently, Major Baseball Leaguers Rafael Palmeiro of the Baltimore Orioles and Ryan Franklin of the Seattle Mariners were suspended for alleged steroid use.
The first significant international anti-doping initiative was taken in 1960 when a group of twenty-one western European nations tabled a resolution against the use of doping substances in sport and individual countries such as France and Belgium enacted national anti-doping laws. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) began to take notice of the problem when cyclist Tommy Simpson died
during a televised race in the 1967 Tour de France. It established a Medical Commission the same year, defined "doping" and the first drug tests were conducted at the Mexico Games in 1968.
Since then, the IOC has released a comprehensive list of banned substances and developed standard procedures for drug testing. After a major drug scandal at the 1998 Tour de France, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was set up in 1999. It is an independent international agency, which is responsible for making unified standards for anti-doping work and to co-ordinate the efforts of sports organizations and public authorities.
Sports that Ban Performance Enhancing Drugs
Apart from athletics, drugs have gradually been banned in almost every professional sport being played around the world. These include all the Olympics sports as well as other international professional sports such as soccer, tennis, and cricket etc. The four major American sports: Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League had rather lax drug-control laws until recently. However, legislation (the "Clean Sports Act of 2005") for introducing uniform testing standards calls for Olympic-style drug testing and stringent penalties for drug use in professional sports is under discussion in the Congress and is expected to be passed soon. ("McCain introduces Clean Sports Act of 2005," 2005)
Banned Drugs in Sports
The most commonly abused performance enhancing drugs in sports are anabolic steroids. They are synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone that build muscle and bone mass by stimulating the muscle and bone cells to make new protein. They are widely used by weight lifters and body builders as well as track and field athletes. Its use is widespread among professional as well as college sportsmen including. Recent drug scandals have revealed that steroid abuse is common in American professional sports such as baseball too. The side effects of steroids are physical as well as psychological. Physical effects of steroid abuse include cancer, liver damage, high blood pressure, heart problems, enlarged prostate in males, stunted growth in young adults, impotence and breast growth in males, and 'masculization'
of females. Psychological effects include severe mood swings: bouts of depression, extreme irritability and aggression. ("Anabolic Steroids" 2005)
A wide variety of stimulants are used by sportspersons as performance enhancing drugs.
Some of the major prohibited stimulants that are commonly abused are Ephedrine, and amphetamines. Ephedrine causes a dramatic increase in the activity of the central nervous system, stimulates metabolism and improves the force of skeletal muscle contractions. Its side effects include heart problems and blood pressure as well as headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, trembling, and troubled breathing. The general side-effects of amphetamine, a powerful synthetic stimulant of the central nervous system, are well-known and include weight loss, kidney damage, increased risk for seizures, irritability, paranoia, hallucination, and even psychosis. A dangerous side effect of amphetamine (causing blood to flow away from the skin) increases the risk of heat stroke. At least two athletes have died due to amphetamine use during competition -- British cyclist Tommy Simpson died in 1967 during the Tour de France and Danish cyclist Knut Jensen died of heat stroke during the 1960 Olympics. ("Drugs in Sports: Amphetamines" n.d.)
Masking Agents. Diuretics are used by athletes to reduce the concentration of drugs in the urine. It induces frequent urination and helps users to escape detection of banned drugs in a urine test.
Use of Drugs by High School Athletes
Professional sportsmen are leading role models for the young generation. Since drug use for performance is so common among them, it is only natural that college and school level athletes mimic their behavior. The culture of 'winning at all costs' is another powerful incentive. Apart from performance enhancing drugs, use of 'recreational drugs' such as marijuana for relaxation and to relieve stress is also common among athletes in U.S. schools.
Prevention and Awareness
Strict action against professional athletes and a 'zero tolerance' policy on drugs in sport would reduce use of performance enhancing drugs. Such policies should also be strictly followed in schools and colleges where the sports administrators and coaches share a major responsibility for preventing drug use. Coaches…