The issue of drug use and abuse to gain a competitive advantage in sports has been a red hot topic ever since the use of anabolic steroids began to become part of mainstream sports culture at some point during the 1950s. Much debate has arisen since this time on the morality and ethical integrity of an athlete or sportsperson using steroids to enhance their performance. This paper intends to discuss that very issue alongside the history of performance enhancing drugs in all areas of sport. To help us begin, here is the Webster dictionary definition of what an anabolic steroid is - "any of a group of synthetic hormones something taken by athletes in training to increase temporarily the size of their muscles".
Since anabolic steroids became banned after the 1976 Olympic Games, there hasn't been such a prevalent presence of the topic, but on occasion there have been high profile reminders that athletes at the top of their game cannot resist trying to gain that further small advantage by cheating. There was the case of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson who was stripped of his 100m gold medal after being found to test positive in 1988, as well as American footballer Lyle Alzado's sudden death in 1992 that was found to be the result of long term anabolic steroid use. Alzado's death in particular heralded an even further quieting down of steroid use, as athletes began to see that rather than giving them extra strength and a desired competitive edge, the banned substances were instead more likely to cause long term damage down the line, and many made the decision that they did not want to risk their lives for a marginal performance increase in their chosen professions.
Research papers state that anabolic steroids were actually banned from non-medical distribution in 1991, and as a result they became much harder to attain and their usage subsequently dropped, but as a consequence of this blanket ban, the early 90s saw a change in the sports drug culture that saw a move away from anabolics and a branching out in to wider world of performance enhancing drugs that has since become a lot harder to detect and crack down on, at least not at the time of the offences being committed.
What cheating athletes have done over the most recent two decades is seek to gain an advantage by seeking out performance enhancing drugs that have not yet been banned by officials and making the most of these loopholes while they still have the time. A problem arises for them, however, when governing bodies do add these substances to their banned lists and the preserved samples of athletes are tested in accordance with protocol. This is the reason why you now see a lot of sport stars being retrospectively banned and punished, with titles being taken away after they have been proved to have been using these substances under the radar in previous weeks, months or years.
A recent high profile case such as this one can be highlighted in the lengthy ban than tennis star Maria Sharapova recently received for testing positive for the now banned substance nandrolone. Though Sharapova argues that she took this drug as a prescribed medication from her doctor, she admits that she continued to take it after the ban came in to place for a number of weeks, and therefore her usage became illegal and disciplinary proceedings were put in to place.
The case of Maria Sharapova poses an interesting question with regards to the culture of drugs in sports. If she had had the sense to stop taking the drug before the ban deadline, then the chances are she would not have been punished, and it would be fair to argue that this sends a message not that anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are something to be completely avoided, but more something that you can be clever about and get away with on a timescale before the research paper and the latest list of banned substances are released and you can cut and switch your ‘medications' accordingly. Is this the best attitude for a professional athlete to have? Perhaps lifetime bans are the only way to stop it all together.