What is the harm of performance enhancing drugs to athletics?

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At a time when Paula Radcliffe is being accused of doping, the question is whether athletics will ever be able to brush the dirt from its shoulder caused by the drug cheats like Justin Gatlin, Dwain Chambers, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones. These cheats can be listed all the way back to the beginning of the modern Olympics, with marathon runner Thomas Hicks, who was stripped of his medal in 1904. 

There is yet to be any evidence to prove such strong and heavy accusations against Radcliffe. The three-time winner of the London Marathon has denied any wrongdoing and offered her blood data to those with the power to examine it professionally. 

She told the Daily Mail: “I categorically deny that I have resorted to cheating in any form what so ever” after MP Jesse Norman ‘effectively implicated' her in the Sunday Times' allegations of doping, saying there was suspicion against medalists and winners of the London Marathon.


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Radcliffe has also explained the emotional pressure it has put on her and her family Radcliffe says it is especially hard for her two young children, Rafael and Isla, who “have missed out on bedtime stories” and have had ‘stress around the house”.

Earlier in the summer, news emerged claiming that Mo Farah had missed a drugs test prior to the London games. Farah appealed against the missed test, which was rejected by UKAD and put him in danger of missing London 2012 under its ‘three strikes’ rule.

The British long-distance runner has denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs, a stance endorsed by the woman who helped raise him. Farah’s aunt, Kinsi, declared he would be disowned by his family if he was a dope cheat.

So why have the likes of Farah and Radcliffe been put under such heavy stress from the media? What is the harm in such drug allegations? What would happen if we were to remove the regulations of taking performance enhancing drugs in competition?

Here is a potential look at the future of athletics if athletes were able to take these performance-enhancing drugs:

Imagine you are sitting in a stadium which stands above the Abu Dhabi skyline, it is the largest capacity stadium ever built, you are one of the 250,000 seated inside. The atmosphere is electric and the excitement is palpable, as it is almost time for the main event of the 2048 Olympics; The Men's 100m race. 

The runners begin to congregate on the track, and then move into their lanes. They all tower above their starting blocks and stand dead still while their physicians administer them some last minute injections before the race. The rituals of these runners are far from what was seen back in the days of Usain Bolt, there is certainly no dancing or posing for the cameras. As the starting pistol draws closer, eyes begin to dilate into a stream of concentration that sees nothing but the track ahead of them.

The commentators begin to speculate over the athletes training programmes and which drugs that were being injected track-side. In the studio alongside the former athletes were pharmaceutical bosses, including CEO of ‘Novo Nordisk’, a company that specialise in the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Almost every athlete in the race was backed by a company from within the pharmaceutical industry. Much like Formula 1, the runners now ran for their manufacturers, not just their countries.

Gold medalist and Long Jump World Champion, Greg Rutherford believes that unfortunately for the world of athletics “As soon as you do something special, people throw allegations at you."

He went on to speak about how disappointed he was at the perception people have of the sport. He told the Standard:

"When my Dad was helping the builders put in my long jump pit at home a few weeks back, they got talking about the athletics and Justin Gatlin [who has twice served drug bans]. And one of the guys just said, ‘Well, everybody’s on drugs, Greg included surely’. That’s really worrying that that’s a public perception. It’s heartbreaking when you give everything you can and you know you’ve done it all clean.” 

There had been pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for years, with athletes tired of their names been dragged through the mud and scared their reputations would be tarnished by media attacks and false speculation. The IOC had been also been coming under a huge amount of pressure from sponsors and the media.

After Usain Bolt’s retirement in 2020, where he won Olympic Gold in the 100m and 200m in Tokyo, it seemed the running world had “plateaued”, no runner could beat Bolt’s World Record time of 9.58s or 19.19s. The sponsors were worried their investment in the Olympics was beginning to lose value, and that interest and global support for the games was fading.

Pressure continued to build for the Olympics during Moscow 2028, and finally the IOC caved. New rules were brought in allowing the use of all performance enhancing drugs during competition at the 2032 Olympics. The World Championships of 2030 were to be used as a ‘test run’ for the Olympics that would follow two years later.

27 World Records were broken at the World Championships that year, and soon the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was disbanded. Athletes were pleased with the increase in positive media coverage and huge increases in prize money. Suddenly athletes had no need to protect their integrity, all athletes were now on a level playing field in the eyes of the IOC and the press.

Viewing figures for athletics sky-rocketed, suddenly a new influx of money came the way of the IOC, which included the backing of a number of drugs companies. It soon became apparent that fans did not care how the athletes got faster, it was still exciting. This was proved decades before when Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, was stripped of his Olympic Gold in Seoul, yet his time of 9.79s was still voted as the most exciting sporting moment of 1988.  

In the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, Johnson lined up for a 100m final that would soon become known as the "dirtiest race in history". First out of the blocks in the final, Johnson destroyed a field that included his bitter rival Carl Lewis, and stormed to victory in a world record time of 9.79s.
Just three days later he was stripped of his medal after it was announced that he had tested positive for stanozolol, a banned anabolic steroid. 

Runner up Lewis, who it was later revealed had tested positive for stimulants at the US Olympic trials. He was then also stripped of the Gold medal, which had been awarded to him after the announcement that Johnson had failed to comply with the regulations. Six of the eight finalists would eventually be implicated in doping scandals. 

As the starting pistol released a deafening sound which echoed around the maximum capacity stadium, the runners took off, their arms and legs pumped in a mesmerising cycle of muscle extension and contraction. However, the action didn't last for long, 8.47 seconds to be precise. The winner let off an emotional cheer of happiness, the anguish from his face disappeared he was quickly given an oxygen mask by his team of physicians before parading around the stadium, American flag in one hand, Vertex Pharmaceuticals in the other.

The win for the American was met by an eruption of cheers from inside the stadium and broadcast all around the world. It was thought to be the most watched sporting event in global history.

However, this monumental feat of athletics was put into perspective hours later when the Olympic 100m champion was found dead in his room, due to heart failure. A coroner later diagnosed the problem to have been a side effect from anabolic steroids and human growth hormones used over his past decade of training.

There are a lot of health risks involved with taking these performance-enhancing drugs, and it is proven that people will always push the barriers to try and be at the front of the pack. By banning substances, you may still get some drugs cheats, such as Marion Jones and Ben Johnson, however, to remove these barriers is to make every athlete take drugs.

There has only ever been one death due to drug use during competition at an Olympic games, it occurred in Rome in 1960, cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen was found to have been under the influence of amphetamines when he fell from his bike and died.

This was the most high profile fatality but by no means the first, a number of groups had voiced their concern after a 300% rise in deaths of high school athletes due to overdoses and heart problems. This led to protests and riots outside the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland. Human rights groups gained momentum and ordered change.

Parents stopped taking their children to Track and Field events, they didn't want their children competing. Much like NFL had issues over head injuries, ever since 2030 track and field began to have masses of issues with overdosing and deaths of young promising athletes, it seemed that this death was to be the tipping point. A stream of negative publicity filled the front and back pages every day for months with pharmaceutical corporations desperately trying to defend their clients and their products. New stories began to emerge of injunctions taken out against families victim to the products.

The following Olympics in 2052 was boycotted by 26 nations, including France and Britain who aimed to set up a new ‘clean Olympics’. They wished to go back to the principles that were placed at the forefront of the Olympic games by Pierre de Coubertin. They wanted athletes to be role models that could be aspired to by future generations and admired. It is far greater to see an athlete accomplish the motto of the Olympic games and go "Faster, Higher, Stronger” when they have done so naturally.’

Athletes looking to gain an unfair advantage isn't something new and isn't something that can be entirely prevented. The use of any substance to corrupt the outcome of a sporting event has been a part of the Olympics since its inception in Ancient Greece, with athletes known to drink "magic" potions and eat exotic meats in the hopes of given them an athletic edge on their competition.

Even since the forming of WADA in 1999 this hasn't stopped drugs cheats. In 2000, Marion Jones famously admitted to having taken steroids at the Sydney games leading to the stripping of her 3 gold medals and 2 bronze medals.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) protects the health and integrity of athletes. Athletes are likely to be accused of taking drugs when what they accomplish is something never done before, whether it be the fastest 100m time of 9.58s or the fastest marathon from a woman of two hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

Radcliffe was a vocal campaigner against drugs cheats during her career. She believes once her blood test data is re-evaluated her name can be cleared. 

The three-time winner of the New York marathon is also famously known for training whilst being five months pregnant. That's the devotion she has, and many other athletes have too, it is what makes athletics the thrilling and exciting sport that it is.

These are the athletes that have become role models for past and present generations, and they will continue to become the role models for future generations while the drugs cheats will soon be forgotten.

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Commonwealth Games
Paula Radcliffe
Mo Farah
Usain Bolt

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