Why do dopers dope?

I read an article in the Economist this week entitled Can the scientists keep up? It gives an interesting potted history of doping in sport and the battle between the anti doping agencies and cheats. It charts the use of depressants, steroids, masking agents and, more recently, erythropoietin and the techniques employed by those trying to catch the users.

I had mixed feelings while reading. At first I was impressed. The commitment and work demonstrated by those seeking to pursue and prevent the drugs cheats throughout nearly 50 years was, and still is, incredible. I was impressed with the example of working with pharmaceutical companies to recognise where new medicines or treatments, in this case CERA-Mircera could be used to enhance performance and develop techniques for detection together. I guess ‘big pharma’ are not always the bad guys!

After that high though, I felt a little depressed. The thought of an ‘arms race’ between good (World Anti Doping Agency) and evil (drugs cheats and developers), is tough for me to grasp. Maybe it’s the purist in me but I don’t understand why people would deliberately engage in a practice that they know contravenes the rules of the sport, to run a bit quicker or throw an object a little bit further. For me, the enjoyment in sport is in the competition and knowing that you have won because of the dogged and consistent determination that you have shown in your preparation.

I tried to understand why someone would do it.  The draw of success, wealth, celebrity, funding, endorsements and scholarships creates massive temptation to break the rules, particularly for those on the cusp of making it. Some might blame modern professional sport for creating those draws. I don’t buy that though. In any situation where big rewards are on offer, a minority will seek to break the rules. See exams cheats, benefits cheats, fraudsters, con artists and my twin brother at board games. Whether you blame society, nature, nurture is your prerogative. My conclusion, to paraphrase Team America, some people are just dicks.

Neil Welch

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