Doping in sports: systemic, insidious and everywhere

© Reuters
With Russia in the midst of a drugs scandal following a WADA-published report alleging systematic state sponsored doping, it is clear that the use of banned substances is still very much an issue in professional sports and Russia is far from being alone.

Arguably the most high profile doping scandal in modern sport involved the American cyclist Lance Armstrong. A winner in his year long battle with cancer in 1996 and a seven-time winner in the Tour de France; Armstrong was once the standout star of his sport.

In 2012, following an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Armstrong was branded as the instigator of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” He had been engaging in performance-enhancing drugs over the course of his career, and was stripped of his seven Tour titles in disgrace.

Radioshack team rider Lance Armstrong © Eric Gaillard

Cyclists have been embroiled in many doping scandals over the years, with the famous Festina affair which surrounded the 1998 Tour de France just one other major example.

The punishment for cheating is severe, and rightly so. An equal playing field in sporting events is essential in the competitive arena, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday when speaking about the current doping saga engulfing his country.

"The battle must be open," he said. "A sporting contest is only interesting when it is honest."

READ MORE: Putin wants official investigation into Russian doping scandal

The issue of doping leaves no sport untouched. The image of Diego Maradona, arguably one of the best ever soccer players, wildly celebrating in front of cameras in a drug-fuelled state during the 1994 World Cup remains one of the sport’s most infamous moments. The brilliant Argentine is still held with disregard after failing a drug test for Ephedrine and sent home from the tournament. He never played for his country again.

Instances of doping have occurred in almost every sport conceivable, from water polo to bobsleigh, baseball to swimming. While those involved in doping remain firmly in the minority, the root of the issue lies with the want to gain an advantage over an opponent. This almost always results in a healthy competitive arena, with athletes increasing training, talking tactics, and trying to get an upper hand within the essential confines. This is the essence of sport and intrinsic in every sportsman’s makeup.

In practically every case, doping finds its home within this makeup, like the snake in Eden, and rooting it out remains one of sport’s biggest problems.

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