Testing The Best: Talk The Talk

Updated Thursday, 8th September 2005
How to sound like an expert. Who really wants to be an expert on drug-taking in sport? Unless you’re a coach, an athlete or a medic, too much knowledge could arouse suspicions as to why you’re so interested. Yes, and why ARE you so interested, anyway?!
It’s true though, that it’s a subject that increasingly makes headline news and is therefore much discussed. So here’s a quick guide to the ins and outs of biochemical gamesmanship - or cheating, as it’s often called.

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Diana Modahl

First of all, we’re talking three basic types of issue: illegal substances, the practice of blood doping, and prohibited "methods" (such as having a secret tube of clean urine secreted up your shorts - but more on that later.) There may be differences in the small print between various legislative documents - but the principal no-nos are pretty consistent across the board. The following are taken from the UKSport Guidelines:

BANNED SUBSTANCES There are five main types of prohibited drug that can bomb you out of top-level quicker than you can say "laboratory analysis" …

1. Stimulants
These include amphetamines, cocaine and even caffeine in large amounts. They are ’uppers’ and make users feel stronger, more energetic, and more positive mentally - in other words they provide artificial stimulation, hence the name. This is considered to give an athlete an unfair advantage, although they can also harm the body in the process. They are often found in prescribed drugs, and in over-the-counter drugs - and even in some herbal and nutritional products - athletes beware …

2. Narcotics
These include methadone, morphine, and diamorphine (heroin). Narcotics are usually used in sport to reduce injury pain, or to increase the pain threshold so that an athlete can continue to train and compete despite pain. There are lots of harmful effects associated with narcotics - not least the ability to make existing injuries worse by overworking them. Again narcotics can be found in many common medications - though a few, such as aspirin and codeine are permitted.

3. Anabolic AgentsThere are two types of "anabolics" - anabolic androgenic steroids - such as nandrolone and stanozolol - and beta-blockers. Anabolic steroids are synthetic male hormones that stimulate the growth of muscle and are claimed to enhance training by making users more aggressive and persistent. However, they can also cause serious mental and physical side effects like blood-clotting disorders, shrunken testicles (men), development of male features (women) and uncontrollable violent behaviour - known as "roid rage".

4. Diuretics Diuretics are chemical substances that force the kidneys to excrete urine more frequently than usual, and in greater amounts. The most common use of diuretics in sport is as a means of losing weight quickly, so sports like rowing and wrestling which have weight restrictions tend to report the highest levels of diuretic use. Athletes who use anabolic steroids also frequently use diuretics to dilute the presence of the steroids in the urine - but this combination of anabolic steroids and diuretics is potentially very harmful to the body.

5. Peptide and Glycoprotein Hormones and Analogues
Quite a mouthful compared to the others - what on earth are they? They are a range of substances otherwise produced naturally by glands in the body to control specific bodily functions. For example, they can stimulate growth, increase tolerance to pain, and boost red blood cell production.

RESTRICTED SUBSTANCES Some substances are more banned than others … While some drugs are totally off-limits, others are described as ’restricted’ and their permissability depends on the intake and the regulations for the sport in question. These include alcohol, marijuana and local anaesthetics. Governing bodies of each sport should be able to supply chapter and verse on the specifics…

There are other illegal activities which don’t involve banned substances. These include: BLOOD DOPING - in which the body’s own bloodstream is ’enhanced’, for example by the introduction of blood which contains more red blood cells or artificial oxygen carriers. MANIPULATION of the urine sample given to testers.

For those who want to take a walk on the illegal side but don’t want to be detected ..., there are three main types of dodgy dealing:

1. Masking Take banned substances, then cover up those banned substances by taking legal substances with a similar chemical profile. This is known as ’masking’.

2. Using your natural resources - unnaturally Inject your body with an extra supply of its own blood or hormones. Why would anyone do that? Because if you can increase the supply of white blood cells in your blood it may improve your performance, and extra hormones could have a similarly beneficial effect. Without being detectable as ’alien’ substances....

3. Playing the system
Manage the timing and dosages of substances such as steroids so that they will improve training, but be out of your system before any potential tests might take place....

BUT WHY CALL IT ’DOPE’? You might have thought up until now that "dope" was simply a kinda 60s word for marijuana. But in a sporting context "doping" is the term for any kind of tampering with the body’s internal chemistry, so refers to every kind of banned substance there is, including stimulants and steroids - oh, and cannabinoids, yes.

"Dope" in this sense derives from the Dutch word "doop", meaning "sauce". And as we all know, sauce can come in many flavours ...

WHAT’S WRONG WITH DRUGS IN SPORT ANYWAY? If you’re seriously wondering that, you may be reading the wrong website!

But it’s not just a question of certain individuals trying to sneak an advantage, there are health issues too. While newspapers may focus on people not playing by the rules, most governing bodies go to great lengths to stress the harmful effects of drugs on athletes’ longterm health.

For example, the International Olympic Committee state that they are anti-drugs for three reasons:

HEALTH: To protect the health of athletes
ETHICS: To honour both medical and sport ethics
FAIRNESS: To promote equality for all competing athletes

There are more published guidelines on substance-abuse than a cat’s got fleas, so if you’re involved in sport make sure you know which ones apply to you, and for which events...

Most individual sporting bodies in the UK have their own published anti-doping rules. These can vary slightly from sport to sport, and it’s speculated that confusion over slight differences in regulations could be behind some of the high-profile drugs allegations to emerge recently. So all competitors in elite sport are strongly advised to get their hands on the specific documents relating to their event.

However, we do also have national guidelines, as laid down by UKSport.

And as signatories to the Council Of Europe Anti-Doping Convention, the UK is bound to comply with its code of practice.

On a global scale, there’s the International Olympic Committee’s Anti-Doping Code.




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