Sport and Performance Enhancing Drugs, Attitudes and Stigmas!

Tom Blackett   |  21/07/2015

Hey guys, it’s been a while since I last put out some content – At the moment I’m returning home from Austria after 5 days of hot sun and some relaxed eating so I’m in a productive mood.

Again, today I’ll be discussing DRUGS in sport :O!  As you can infer from the title the main focus of todays blog will be on existing stigmas and attitudes and why society has them.

As usual – I hope the read proves informative and thought provoking!

Ok… So we know that modern society now attaches an entirely negative stigma to drug using athletes; those who are proven to have used/be using prohibited performance-enhancing substances are branded as cheats and will likely have their reputation ruined instantly.  I think we can all agree on that.

However…Ladies and gentlemen.. believe it or not this attitude towards doping is relatively new; the anti-doping culture has only developed across all sports in the last decade or so. This is emphasised by Mark McGwire: the man who broke the world record for the highest number of home runs scored in a single baseball season in September 1998.

A few weeks before he broke the record, McGwire “publicly admitted that he had been taking regular doses of androstenedione, an anabolic steroid which is on the list of drugs banned by the International Olympic Committee” (Waddington, 2000:90).  Yes.. thats right.. he publicly admitted that he’d been taking STEROIDS.  However, there was no suggestion that his decision to take androstenedione was unethical or unfair, nor was his record regarded as superficial.  Rather, McGwire is still held up by many as a “model of ‘dignity and humility’, as a man who loves his family and his God, who is noteworthy for his ‘strength of character’ and for his ability ‘to rise so magnificently to the occasion’.  We are even told that McGwire – the anabolic steroid-using McGwire – symbolises ‘the good old days, when heroes were heroes and the game was pure'” (Waddington, 2000:91).

Yet, barely a few years ago, Lance Armstrong’s reputation and role model status was completely undermined following the finding that he was a serial cheat because he had doped to achieve his success; as a consequence Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and he has since admitted to the allegations (USADA, 2012).

It is difficult to rationalise the difference in principle between Armstrong’s and McGwire’s behaviour; it is merely the sport and the decade that separates them.  This begs the question as to why modern society has in such a relatively short space of time attached such a negative stigma to drugs/doping in sport. Perhaps it is because some performance-enhancing drugs have been linked with long term health risks; or maybe it is because performance enhancing drugs provide an unfair/unethical method of gaining an advantage?

WHY? Well… before you hear my take on it – lets first look at the reasoning behind why drugs are currently banned in sport.

*DON’T get bored now – read on!*

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) currently bans a drug if it is:

A). A danger to health

B). Performance enhancing

C). If it infringes on the ‘spirit of sport’

WADA defines the ‘spirit of sport’ as “what is intrinsically valuable about sport” (WADA, 2009:15) and clarifies these values as:

  • Ethics, fair play and honesty
  • Health
  • Excellence in performance
  • Character and education
  • Fun and joy
  • Teamwork
  • Dedication and commitment
  • Respect for rules and laws
  • Respect for self and other Participants
  • Courage
  • Community and solidarity

From these listed values, as well as the two specific purposes of the code itself, it can be assumed that doping is banned and hugely stigmatised because it challenges the very principles that underpin sport as we know it today, with health and ethics being at the forefront of WADA’s agenda.

In my next blog – I will explore WADA’s justifications for the ban further.