Can sport ever rid itself of doping?

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Football News

The issue of doping in sport goes right back to Ancient Greece and Roman times where athletes resorted to taking drugs to either mask up pain or to boost performance.  

The word ‘doping’ actually comes for the Dutch word ‘doop’ which was an alcoholic drink used by the great Zulu warriors. It was thought that back then this almost magical supplement gave the Zulu’s an improved prowess, which aided their performance in battle and made them more fearsome with this added energy. 

The first ever recorded technique was used by the ancient Maya. They would eat cocoa leaves to increase their abilities. Just like back then, the same thought and yearning for success has gone into new ways to run faster, jump higher, reach farther, and conquer self or extrinsic goals today. 

However, time has taken its toll and performance-enhancing drugs have only gotten more effective and more wide spread with increments such as steroids, HGH, amphetamines, diuretics, sedatives, painkillers and even going to the extent as to eat animal organs just as the Greeks did in their time to improve skill.

Any method used by athletes that results in an enhancement of performance is called an ergogenic aid and it includes the use of technology for improving the effectiveness of equipment.  

The most common form of doping is blood doping. It is the injection of blood to increase number of red blood cells. The reason for its use is that it gives the body more energy to work. However, it has its side effects such as allergic reactions, AIDS/hepatitis and blood clots. 

Another shared form of doping is the increase of peptide hormones in the body, which is a naturally occurring product like EPO. It helps build up and mend muscle and increases oxygen transportation, which offers an advantage to the competitor. Nevertheless, when there are ups there are downs and muscle wasting is a noticeable consequence of this illegal act in sport. Normal levels of EPO are 0 to 20 mU/ml (mill units per millilitre). Any higher, and it would be assumed that EPO was abused for a competitive advantage.

Blood doping is the act of increasing the amount of red blood cells in the blood which improves the contestants aerobic capacity, which is very handy for athletes who compete in very high endurance races such as cycling or cross country skiing, therefore making it very desirable. 

A common way of blood doping would be to remove 1-4 units of blood, which is equivalent to 450-1800ml. This causes the body to act, and with the body producing roughly 2 million red cells a second, it does not take long for the athlete to regain what was lost beforehand. 

The body’s first reaction is very simple, but very effective. The fact that there is less blood circulating the body means that there is also less oxygen flowing around. This causes very specific cells in the kidneys, called peritubular cells, to detect this very low level of oxygen and solve it. These cells have a very important job as they secrete erythropoietin, which is a protein. The erythropoietin is sent through the blood until it reaches the bone marrow where is produces stem cells.

The tibia and femur are the main manufacturers of red blood cells until you reach the age of about 25. Whereas the vertebrae, sternum, pelvis, ribs, and cranial bones produce red blood cells right throughout your life span. The bone marrow also specializes in just making red blood cells, in order to replenish stores faster rather than having an equilibrium production with white blood cells or platelets, which would be less constructive.

The biggest and most looked over doping case was in the 1994 World Cup which was hosted in nine cities all across the United States. Diego Maradona played a pivotal role in his first match, scoring in Argentina’s first match against Greece in a 4-0 victory. 

Maradona was in the spotlight, widely regarded as the best player at the time, and some would argue the best player ever to grace the footballing world. However, with great skill comes great responsibility and Maradona was convicted of using ephedrine after Argentina’s second game against Nigeria where they won 2-1, no thanks to Maradona playing a fundamental role in attack once again. If used with other enhancements, ephedrine would be an effective weight loss method, something that Maradona struggled with at the time.

Maradona then went onto writing his own autobiography, called ‘El Diego’. In his autobiography, Maradona argued that the reason for his positive test was not his fault, but his coaches. He explains how his coach had bought him a power drink called Rip Fuel. He later justifies that he thought he was drinking the Argentine one, that unlike the U.S. version, did not contain the chemical that is banned in professional sport, ephedrine.

There is a very controversial argument whether or not to allow ‘blood spinning’ available to professional athletes considering it is similar to ‘blood doping’.  Most recently, Tottenham’s superstar Gareth Bale had been reported to be using blood spinning when he had suffered a serious ankle injury and Tottenham wanted him back to fitness as quick as possible. 

Blood spinning is a method used by athletes, similar to blood doping, however it is to increase the healing power and to reduce the recovery time of an injury. Unlike blood doping, only a small amount of blood is taken from the athlete, and then it is spun in a centrifuge. The centrifuge allows the growth hormone to become more concentrated as it is spun around. It is then re-injected back into the body where the injury has occurred, so in Bale’s case, his ankle.

As controversial as this method may be, it is still a leagalised form of rehabilitation.

Eufemiano Fuentes is the Spanish doctor convicted over cyclist doping after police found 200 bags of frozen blood and plasma when they raided his offices in 2006 as part of Operation Puerto.

The judge in the trial sparked outrage two months ago after ordering the destruction of these bloodbags – potentially destroying any chance of prosecuting the blood-doping athletes.

However, what if WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) won the right to keep the blood bags and looked heavily into them and find out whose blood they actually were? It would potential start the unravelling of one of sport’s biggest doping operations.

Hence the disappointment by Andy Parkinson, the UK anti-doping boss. He said in a statement: "We are disappointed in the decision. Fuentes has admitted to having been involved in multiple prohibited doping activities, and linked with multiple unnamed athletes. It therefore cannot be right that these names will remain unknown." 

He along with many other people are very angry at the fact that these 100+ athletes will get away with their crimes and have the sporting benefits from abusing this very firm doping law.

Drawing to an end, doping has many physical benefits to an athlete who is contesting in a high endurance race, match or competition. It enables them to be better than their usual self, and for this simple reason, it is therefore seen as very desirable. 

With popularity in sport increasing so heavily over the past decade, there are huge pressures on the players to perform. 

Accompanied with the supporters demanding absolute perfection in a match, doping pressures are almost doubled as the crowed expect immaculate performances, to make sure their team win. 

This has a massive impact on a player’s mind-set, as he or she will demand better from themselves to please others.

When playing, this heavy weight on their shoulders may and has taken its toll on them a few times, for example not being able to score when you are the club’s main goal scorer. Slowly the crowd starts to get on your back, and this weight only increases. 

There will be players out there today that are taking these performance enhancing drugs to be better than their usual selves, or to get back to their usual selves. 

However, uncovering these elite sportsmen and women who are taking these supplements would have a massive effect on future media investments and revenues therefore making it economically inefficient, no matter how unfair or unjust it is.

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