Institutionalized doping in sports obliges cultural reform

by Saloni Shah, Reporter

A flood of grey and white dominated the floor as 169 athletes maneuvered through the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, following behind the Olympic flag instead of proudly displaying their native Russian flag. Watching the Russian athletes compete under the banner “OAR” (Olympic Athletes from Russia) brings back a plethora of memories of the doping scandals which rocked the international sports world during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Due to systemic state-sponsored doping program in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics involving more than 1,000 Russian athletes across 30 sports, Russia was banned by International Olympic Committee (IOC) from competing at the 2018 Olympics; though 169 “clean athletes” from Russia were allowed to participate as individual athletes. Russia, still in official denial about its involvement, seems to have used its power and influence in the sporting world to strike a compromise with the IOC. In spite of the leniency, two Russian athletes failed the drug test at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Doping is the administration of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to gain an unfair advantage in sporting events. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) prohibits the use of about 300 types of PEDs which include anabolic steroids, stimulants, human growth hormone and diuretics.

Unfortunately, the Sochi cheating and coverup is but one of the many prevalent conspiracies in the sporting world scandals. In 2006, Floyd Landis, Lance Armstrong and several other bicyclists were found guilty of using PEDs. In 2007, the “Mitchell Report” highlighted the use of anabolic steroids in the baseball world.

Star athletes have always been idolized, and they hold a privileged place in society as a role model for young children and aspiring athletes. The unethical, unsportsmanlike and illegal code of conduct prevalent amongst the athletes tarnishes the image of the sport and the credibility of the athletes as role models. In a society where sports figures are seen as heroes, these scandals set a bad precedent where young children begin to view cheating as an acceptable way to win.

With institutionalized support from coaches to win at all costs and the attraction of high prize money, the use of PEDs has not generated enough outrage. Many athletes caught cheating, such as tennis player Maria Sharapova and sprinter Justin Gatlin, return to their sport with their old fame and glory after serving minor punishments. Infuriatingly, seven Russian medals from the 2014 Sochi Olympics were reinstated after doping ban was overturned on the athletes.

We need to level the playing field for the athletes who have worked hard all their life without the supplement of PEDs. It is time that we hold cheating athletes more responsible for their actions. It is time that we stop turning a blind eye to doping in the field of sports, since cheating erodes the trust fans place in athletes. A lifetime ban for guilty athletes is worth considering as the first step in restoring integrity in sports. Honesty in sports would be a welcome and refreshing change.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 6, 2018.