by Shamkoe Pilé
Pressure to win at any cost is a major factor that may cause some sportspersons to take banned substances, and this is why control measures are put in place to protect both the sport and the athlete.
So says Sports Medicine Specialist and Member of the National Anti-Doping Agency, Dr. Renée Best.
He made this comment during a lecture at a sensitisation workshop held by the UNESCO National Anti-Doping Education Project last Saturday at the Barbados Olympic Association, Wildey, St. Michael.
Representatives from the Barbados Equestrian Association, Barbados Archery Association, Barbados Cycling Union and the Barbados Female Football Association attended the session.
Best told the participants that “pressure to perform well can come from the society, the media, the coaches, the team and even from family members. Persons choose to dope for fame, for socio-economic gains and simply social defiance”.
One famous sportsperson who fell to this temptation was cyclist, Lance Armstrong. It was alleged that he was willing to sacrifice his health by using banned substances to enhance his performance. The discovery of his dishonesty led to him being stripped of his medals and losing major endorsements.
Regardless of the reasons, he stressed: “The aim of anti-doping is to deter, detect and punish those who cheat. Control measures are put in place to protect the ethics of the sport, to protect the adversaries (the competitors) and to protect the health of the athlete.
“There are certain things on the list [of banned substances] that do not help performance. Sometimes you have to protect the athletes against themselves because these things can cause danger to health and death in some cases.”
The sports medicine specialist explained that doping violations are outlined in the World Anti-Doping Code; a set of guidelines prepared by the World Anti-Doping Agency in consultation with sports associations and governments around the world.
He pointed out that the code stated it was the duty of each athlete to ensure whatever enters his or her body is not a prohibited substance and noted that athletes were responsible for any prohibited substance, metabolites or markers found in their urine or blood samples.
“Tampering or attempting to tamper with the anti-doping procedure is also a violation. If we find that you were trying to fiddle with the bottles or trying to switch urine, that alone is a violation against the anti-doping code,” the doctor stressed.
Furthermore, Best said, administering or attempting to administer a prohibited substance was also a violation – a strategy he indicated that targets the athlete’s entourage.
“So, the athlete might not have tested positive with the prohibited substance … but there is evidence of attempting to administer the substance… More and more these days, violations are not just aimed at the athlete but at the doctors and the coaches. [So] there are also charges and bans for them as well.”
Best emphasised that anti-doping was essential because “clean athletes face the threat of being beaten by a competitor who is not faster, stronger, or more dedicated, but takes drugs to gain the winning edge”.
However, he admitted that WADA and national anti-doping agencies worldwide were up against stiff competition when it came to ensuring that athletes’ right to participate in a doping-free environment were upheld and maintained. This is simply because the temptations to win are great.
Outlining that finance was a major motivator for doping, Best said: “Money is a big thing… Think of the endorsements an athlete could receive after winning.
“Marion Jones, at the peak of her career, had an appearance fee of US$80,000. Usain Bolt, I think, has now gone over US$300,000 as an appearance fee, and this does not include the money they get for winning,” he stated.
He explained at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championship, the winner of an individual event earned US $60,000 while the winners of a relay received US$80,000.
“And, if an athlete achieved a new World Record during the 10th IAAF World Championships, he or she was offered US$100,000… So, you can see the temptations and why some people would dope for these advantages…,” Best reasoned.
The sports medicine specialist also told the audience that pressure from family should not be taken for granted, as “doping is big on the college scene to some extent in certain sports… Parents want their children to get scholarships or to become the big financial winner for the family”.
He added that pressure could also affect the aging athlete who needed to stay on top to maintain endorsement deals.
Moreover, he identified the adrenaline rush associated with the fame of winning as another temptation.
“The high alone that an athlete receives when he or she walks into a stadium with 20,000 people cheering and screaming his or her name, and everyone knows him or her, could put pressure [on that person] to stay on top.”
Nonetheless, Best stressed that regardless of the reasons; athletes should refrain from doping and advised those gathered at the workshop to be very careful with the substances they decided to ingest.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse! You are responsible for anything that passes your lips. You should always clear whatever you take with your medical team. That is how strict you have to get, because if you claimed to have accidently taken [a banned substance] you have to prove it,” he said.
The sensitisation workshop on anti-doping was an outreach initiative of the UNESCO National Anti-Doping Education Project. The next sessions will take place on Saturday, July 20, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Barbados Olympic Association.
Creative persons such as visual artists, spoken word artistes, dancers, actors, film makers and singers are encouraged to attend, since an anti-doping category has been added to the National Festival for Creative Arts.
Interested persons, who wish to acquire more details, may contact Patrina Bynoe or Neil Murrell at the National Sports Council.
by Shamkoe Pilé