Saturday, December 9, 2006

Global shame
Ivninderpal Singh

THE quest for better athletics through chemicals goes back a long time. With the aim to excel, sportspersons adopt the wrong path by consuming performance-enhancing drugs. This illegal way of "performing at its peak" was witnessed even during Ancient Olympics. The first recorded attempt to enhance performance occurred in 8th century BC, when Ancient Greek Olympians ate sheep’s testicles. Today, we would recognise these as a source of testosterone.

Another form of drugs use is blood doping, either by blood transfusion or using the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). Players boost the number of red blood corpuscles (RBCs) in the circulation to enhance athletic performance. Red blood corpuscles carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, therefore their increased presence in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity and stamina.

And the latest in the doping stable is gene doping. It will be very difficult to detect this. When used, it will last for many years.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), now the International Association of Athletics Federations, is the first international governing body of sport to take a serious note of the situation. In 1928, it banned users of dope. But with little by the way of testing available, it had to rely on the word of the athlete.

It was not until 1966 that FIFA and Union Cycliste Internationale (cycling) joined the IAAF in the fight against drugs, closely followed by the International Olympic Committee in 1967. The first tests for athletes were at the 1966 European Championships and two years later the IOC implemented their first drug tests at both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

In recent history, a famous case of illicit drug use in a competition was Canadian Ben Johnson’s victory in the 100 m at the 1988 Summer Olympics. He failed the drug test when stanozolol was found in his urine. And a doping scandal shook the world of cycling in the summer of 1998. The entire Festina team were excluded from Tour de France following the discovery of a team car containing large amounts of various performance-enhancing drugs.

Following this, the IOC decided to convene a world conference on doping, bringing together all parties involved in the fight against this menace. The World Conference on Doping in Sport, held in Lausanne on February 2-4, 1999, produced the Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport.

Subsequently, according to the terms of the Lausanne Declaration, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was established on November 10, 1999, in Lausanne to promote and coordinate the fight against doping in sport internationally.

Infamous cases

In July, 2005, founders of California’s Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative pleaded guilty to steroid distribution. Those implicated in the scandal included British sprinter Dwain Chambers; the American sprinter Marion Jones, winner of a record five Olympic medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; her shot putter husband C.J. Hunter; Barry Bonds, perhaps the most fearsome hitter in baseball; Jason and several members of the Oakland Raiders.

  • The 2006 book Game of Shadows alleges extensive use of several types of steroids and growth hormones by baseball superstar Barry Bonds, and also names several other athletes as drug cheats.

  • In 2006, the Spanish police arrested five persons, including the sporting director of the Liberty Seguros cycling team, on charges of running a massive doping scheme involving most of the team and many other top cyclists. Several potential contenders in the 2006 Tour de France were forced to withdraw when they were linked to the scheme.

  • Less than a week after the 2006 Tour de France, it was revealed that winner Floyd Landis had tested positive after his stunning stage 17 victory.

n In July, 2006, Olympic and world 100m champion Justin Gatlin failed a drug test.