Balance and knowledge are lacking in the drugs in sport debate

Sharminator Roar Rookie

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    Former Federal Government Minister for Sport Kate Lundy released the ACC investigation's report (AAP Image/Julian Smith).

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    The revelations over the last couple of days have raised many issues about drugs in sport. However, I think there also needs to be some balance, which has been lacking so far.

    I understand the reasons that theMinister for Sport Kate Lundy gave The Roar for the ACC presenting its “findings” without mentioning specific names. However, in doing so the ACC blacklisted the whole of Australian sport because some people are cheating.

    In every walk of life there are some people who will do bad things. Here, because no names have been released, and no specific cases have been mentioned, the real extent of the problem, and whether it really is such a “black day” for Australian sport, remains unclear.

    With the amount of testing done into Australian sport, I doubt that more than a small percentage of athletes are able to get away with doping.

    There are a few areas in which the commentary has been lacking.

    Ill-informed comments in the press and by politicians
    A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon who have no idea what they are talking about, and who have not done their research. An example of this was an article on The Roar by Spiro Zavos regarding drug cheats.

    “Within the last 10 years there were rumours of some star players (not in Australia or New Zealand) using creatine to bulk up their generally frail frames into a wiryness that made them competitive in Test rugby.”

    Creatine is not, and has never been, on any list of banned substances by the World Doping Authority.

    It is found naturally in many foods such as red meat, it has a three hour half life in the body, you can only process a certain amount of creatine (eliminating the rest as waste), and it has not been proven to have any negative long term effects.

    Jeff Kennett accused the AFL of having an unworkable drugs policy. “The only policy that will work in the interests of the clubs, the AFL and the players, is a zero tolerance policy to drugs, be they illicit or performance-enhancing.”

    The AFL, ARU, ARL, and most other sports all adhere to WADA and ASDA drug lists. The problem isn’t that any of these sports allow people to use substances they shouldn’t be allowed to, or that they are not strict enough.

    The problem with both Zavos and Kennett’s comments are that they confuse the general public. They lead people to start thinking that taking legal supplements, such as an amino acid pill or protein shake, is the same as taking steroids and should be banned.

    Condemning sports nutrition
    In the wake of the ACC report there are many people condemning the idea of having a club doctor, nutritionist, or sports scientist. Nutrition and sport science are a valid part of sport today.

    Condemning them is simply naive. In the Olympics hundredths of a second can determine first to fifth place and in team sports the stamina or strength of a player can determine who wins.

    Sports clubs and leagues are money-making entities, and if an individual wins, they can earn huge rewards. If by taking a legal protein or creatine or caffeine supplement, a sportsman can increase his performance and reach his maximum athletic potential, good on him.

    Supplementation is just as much a part of sport as having a good coach; having a good aerobic, anaerobic, or gym trainer; or having a good sports psychologist.

    People saying “in my day we never had supplements” or “all supplements should be banned” are simply showing ignorance.

    The majority of supplements are derived from naturally occurring foods, and do not contain anything illegal or anything which damages the health of athletes. This is exactly why they cannot be banned.

    However, when used judiciously they can help improved athletic performance.

    Why some drugs are banned
    So, why are some drugs banned in sport? Because governing bodies, sports drug agencies, and governments have decided that some substances are harmful, or give the athletes taking them an unfair advantage over other athletes.

    Sports bodies care about the health of athletes because it dosen’t look good when former players get sick, and also because of the attitude of athletes towards drugs in sport.

    There was a famous survey carried out by Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., conducted biannually from 1982 to 1995. It asked elite athletes if they would take a drug that guaranteed them an Olympic gold medal but would kill them in five years.

    Every time Goldman administered the survey, more than half those surveyed said they would. When you are competing at the highest level, dedicating all your time to being the best, win at all costs can become an obsession.

    In the case of steroids, blood doping, and human growth hormone, there is strong evidence to prove their harmful effects in the short and long term. This includes effects on the heart, liver, reproductive organs, and psychological effects.

    So these substances and practices are banned for the good of the athletes.

    What is the problem in Australian sport?
    The ASDA is seen as a best-practice sports drug testing agency. It does random testing in all the major team and Olympic sports in the country.

    But, of course people are going to slip through the net. Why? Because it´s simply not viable to test everybody.

    Imagine after an AFL or NRL game, you have between 40 and 50 players (including reserves), who are tired, and either celebrating or agitated.

    There is simply not the time, resources or lab space available to test that many players. Additionally the majority of testing is urine testing, which cannot detect all drugs. Blood testing can detect more drugs, but it is invasive, and repeatedly taking blood could result in infection or other problems for athletes.

    Anyway, the reality is that testing is not the only solution. Athletes at the highest level get around testing. Look at Lance Armstrong, who never failed a drugs test, or Victor Conte’s BALCO.

    BALCO supplied top U.S. athletes with designer steroids that couldn’t be detected, and masking agents. Conte meticulously monitored athlete’s blood levels and biological markers to ensure they couldn’t be caught and that their health wasn’t being adversely affected.

    Among his clients was Marion Jones (stripped of five Olympic gold medals from 2000), Tim Montgomery (Olympic gold medallist and 100-metre world record holder) and record-setting baseballer Barry Bonds.

    All three were charged with various offences after documentation concerning them emerged from BALCO. They admitted to taking illegal drugs to enhance sporting performance, but none ever tested positive.

    What can be done?
    The best solution, combined with random testing, is simply education and monitoring of athletes. Clubs and governing bodies need to regularly give presentations to athletes about sports doping and its effects.

    They also need to regularly remind them of examples such as Armstrong and Jones, who were at one stage rich and on top of the world due to sporting success, but doped, lied, were forced to admit their drug use, were stripped of their titles, and are now discredited and living in shame.

    Constant education, combined with random testing, is the best way to stop prohibited drug use in Australian sport.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • Roar Guru

      February 11th 2013 @ 11:27am
      delbeato said | February 11th 2013 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      Woah! People in glass houses…

      “But, of course people are going to slip through the net. Why? Because it´s simply not viable to test everybody.”

      If you haven’t already, you need to read books by ex-dopers in cycling like Tyler Hamilton and David Millar. Not being able to test everybody is certainly one way dopers slip through the net, but you’ve missed the major one – the ease with which the tests can be beaten. Pro cycling has the most rigorous drug testing regime in all of sport, and arguably the biggest drug problem.

      “repeatedly taking blood could result in infection”

      Is there any evidence of this? I was under the impression that done properly (i.e. with a clean needle), there is negligible risk.

      Finally, you’ve missed an important point on supplements. While they do not necessarily contain banned substances (although some do), they have been found to – either intentionally or inadvertently – to groom athletes for taking explicitly banned substances. This is particularly the case with injections. Once athletes become ‘reliant’ on supplements – i.e. believe that they are necessary to maintain high performance – it can be a slippery slope to taking banned substances.

      • February 11th 2013 @ 12:39pm
        TC said | February 11th 2013 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

        So supplements are bad because they lead to taking banned substances?

        Sounds like the old argument that smoking a joint is bad because it leads to harder drugs.

        Should we force everyone to survive on a diet of organic fruit and vegetables?

        • Roar Guru

          February 11th 2013 @ 12:47pm
          delbeato said | February 11th 2013 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

          Woah.. back her up for a minute. I didn’t say supplements are automatically bad. Just that their use has been shown to increase the risk of graduating to harder stuff – yes, much like the argument about soft illicit drugs. Taking legal supplements is not prohibited, but neither is having 20 DVD players in the boot of your car for sale. Just because something isn’t prohibited doesn’t make it good or mean you should just smile and move on.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 12th 2013 @ 2:14pm
            Sharminator said | February 12th 2013 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

            Im not really sure what your main points are delbeato.

            Regarding Testing … as I said not everyone can be tested, and, I agree, people like Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong and other cyclists never tested positive, despite years of testing. There should be testing, perhaps more, as it can make athletes think twice about doping, but the fact that not everyone can be tested or gets caught, reinforces my point that there needs to be other solutions, such as more education for athletes.

            If you rephrased the Goldman test, to “would you take a drug that guaranteed you an Olympic gold medal, but saw you accused of cheating in five years time and stripped of your medals” I think many athletes would decide it wouldnt be worth it.

            Regarding Blood Testing, you can develop soreness and bruising at the site where you have been tested, especially if you are being tested regularly. There are various other risks:


            While the risk is minor, some people in the media are advocating regular blanket testing of athletes at higher levels in sport. This is not only excessively costly, it can also have negative effects on athletic performance if it results in any of the side effects above.

            Finally, the idea that taking supplements is “grooming” athletes to get onto banned substances is ridiculous. Drinking beer increases your chances of becoming an alcoholic, but only a small percentage of people that drink beer become alcoholics. The same with soft illicit drugs like Marijuana and hard drugs.

            Many athletes use legal supplements. It is a reality that If a substance isnt on a banned list, athletes will try it, and if they or their coaches believe it improves their performance, they will keep taking it. Unless a supplement causes a danger to the health of an Athlete, I dont see why athletes should be prohibited from taking it by sporting authorities.

            There have by the way been cases of Legal Supplements (such as protein powders) being found to contain WADA prohibited substances that were not on the label. But today many supplement lines have labels saying they have been tested and verified to be “WADA safe”.

            The people saying “well athletes should stop taking supplements full stop” is simply naieve.

            • February 12th 2013 @ 2:54pm
              TC said | February 12th 2013 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

              All good points Sharminator.

              I too don’t understand this populist view that supplements are evil.

              Anything within WADA guidelines is fine.

              You can’t have a set of rules, and then tell everyone: actually, we’d prefer you stay well, well below the thresholds contained within the regulations.

              Furthermore, it’s not within the ACC’s charter to sit in judgement of legal supplements being used.

    • February 11th 2013 @ 1:59pm
      dasilva said | February 11th 2013 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

      Agree 100% with this article

      Especially the whole supplements vs illegal PED

      People think that because a drug/compound etc is performance enhancing therefore it is bad in of it self. However that’s like saying having a good well balanced diet and exercised regularly is performance enhancing and therefore unfair.

      If a compound is beneficial and has no side effects then people should be allowed to take it. If there was a drug that causes people to be faster, stronger and more fitter with no side effects, not only should athletes be able to take it, we should put it in drinking water so everyone gets the benefit (you know fluorine is a drug). This fear of drugs leads to the naturalistic fallacy that if it’s unnatural it is bad (same with people who believe in the no injection policy because it is unnatural).

      The reason why PED is bad because it is bad for your health. That athletes have to damage their health to have a chance of winning an event. That if you want to live a healthy lifestyle you can’t do professional sports.

      • February 11th 2013 @ 3:09pm
        Lroy said | February 11th 2013 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

        I think the hype about creatine is just that, hype. I was a bit of a gym junkie a few years ago, worked out 5 days a week etc. My buddy recomended creatine, so I brought a big jar of the stuff, chocolate flavoured.

        To be honest, I dont think it had any effect whatsoever on me… I didnt magically get bigger… in addition pills supposed to burn fat had no effect. The only ones that did work were appetitte supressants, but if I took those I never felt like going to the gym.

        • February 11th 2013 @ 3:47pm
          TC said | February 11th 2013 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

          Careful Lroy – you are now on the ACC’s hit list – if you hear a small click on your phone – you’ll know why.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 12th 2013 @ 2:17pm
          Sharminator said | February 12th 2013 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

          Its like anything Lroy .. we are all different, supplements that work for one person mighn´t work for another.

          I put on 10kg using creatine and protein powder combined with heavy gym training and eating a lot of food, but results will differ from persone to person.

          As Dasilva said above … if a supplement dosnt have any negative effects on your health, I think people should be allowed to try it.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 12th 2013 @ 2:29pm
        Sharminator said | February 12th 2013 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        Exactly Dasilva, I think one of the problems in this whole debate is that many of the people giving opinions in the media have never played high level sport. After a killer training session, when just want to lie in bed and die because you are exhausted, supplements can take away the pain and help recovery. They can also help you life that 10% in a game, in the gym, on that run etc.

        If a supplement isn´t proven to be particularly bad for your health, it shouldnt be banned.

        • February 13th 2013 @ 11:44am
          dasilva said | February 13th 2013 @ 11:44am | ! Report

          Now we have Brian Smith on The Roar saying this
          “If you have a medical condition that requires a substance banned as a performance enhancer, perhaps you should try another profession. It seemed too convenient in more than one case brought to my attention. ”

          So is he seriously saying get rid of therapeutic used exemptions from the game

          Oh well, good bye asthmatics and diabetics. You’re not welcome in professional sports

          Good bye any person who had a blood transfusion in their lives

          Leo Messi should be barred from the game as he took growth hormones to treat growth hormone deficiency when he was a child

          Any female who had delivered a premature baby should be kicked out of the game (it’s procedure that if they think there is premature birth you deliver steroids to the mother because it might develop the foetus

          Any person who was born prematurely are given steroids to help grow surfactants in the lung

    • Roar Rookie

      February 12th 2013 @ 4:10am
      Neuen said | February 12th 2013 @ 4:10am | ! Report

      Thank you for making drug trafficking a profitable business in Australia. The more you ban the more pockets you fill.

      Artos, The Drug Trafficker

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