Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport

Are performance enhancing drugs as harmful as we think they are? Imogen finds out.


After the storm of allegations that plagued the sporting world last year, it seems that doping is now seen as an integral part of it. From government run schemes to dubious coaching behaviour, the elite sports community appears to be rife with accusations from all over the world. However, many people do not see any issue with the use of ‘Performance-Enhancing’ drugs if everyone is using them; this removes any unfair playing field that is created now by their ‘inconsistent’ use in the sports. However, many others are opposed to their use because they can have damaging and long-term effects to the health of the athletes. Many medical reports suggest that anabolic steroids can cause a multitude of negative side effects such a kidney and liver failure. So, why are athletes stopped from using them and what are the rules surrounding their usage?

Let’s begin with the belief that PED’s should be available to all. This argument centres around the idea of pushing athletes to the maximum-ability of the human body and what it is capable of. There is no question that it would be interesting to see how fast an athlete can run, for example, but (like with any drug taking) what risk could this pose? Some of the drugs that are banned in certain sports are often available as prescribed medication, such as the steroids that are in asthma inhalers. For this reason, many people argue that the drugs themselves are not actually that dangerous. It’s the quantity that drugs such as diuretics, steroids and beta-blockers are taken in that is most concerning. Beta-blockers are often used by athletes that require a steady hand for success in their sport, for example: clay pigeon shooting, darts or snooker. They work by reducing the heart rate to slow down the body so that it can work in a more focussed manner.

These drugs can in some cases actually stop the heart completely, which presents a real threat to the health of athletes that use them. Possibly the most influential and widely accepted reasons for the banning of doping in sport are the side effects and the risks that are presented to the health of users, like those associated with the use of Beta Blockers. People appear most concerned about the unhealthy relationship doping creates to general drug taking and the negative image it creates for sport. As more and more athletes get away with doping this sends the wrong message to grassroots and up-and-coming sports stars.

The consequences for athletes who are caught doping are very serious and can range from an outright ban from the sport and/or the removal of medals. Recently, Usain Bolt had one of his relay titles revoked after a team mate tested positive in an anti-doping check. Even more recently though, Bradley Wiggins was acquitted after concerns around dubious drug drop offs. In an interview, Wiggins suggested that the behaviour of the anti-doping agency resembled a ‘malicious witch-hunt’. The bad publicity that Wiggins has faced during this lengthy investigation could have potentially destroyed his credibility but many believe that this is necessary in order to weed out those who are abusing their athletic rights. The issue remains one of sport’s darkest talking points.