Moving Forward: Overcoming the Doping Problem in Professional Athletics


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Today, the Russian Athletics Federation announced that marathon runner Albina Mayorova has been suspended for four years as a result of tests she took last year. The Russian doping scandal dominated the news-cycle in 2016 and we are seeing similar problems in competitive athletics across the board. Five years after Lance Armstrong’s doping bust, the UK Anti Doping agency (UKAD) says that EPO use is still an “endemic” problem in cycling.

Tennis-star Maria Sharapova’s 15-month suspension for using meldonium is ending this week, while MMA fighter Francisco “Frank” Mir will begin his two-year suspension for violating the UFC Anti-Doping Policy. Jon Jones may be returning to UFC soon, while U.S. Olympic track and field star Brianna Rollins will begin a year long suspension for skipping several drug tests. It seems that the greater world of competitive athletics is now going through something akin to what Major League Baseball (MLB) faced a decade ago.

The MLB’s “Steroid Era” started in roughly 1994 and lasted for over a decade. Players were breaking records left and right, and while most people knew drug use was happening, it wasn’t being dealt with. Then, in 2006, the MLB was investigated by the same people who drafted the McLaren Report. The investigation uncovered widespread steroid use; and, even though stats indicated it was over, it took years before public perception changed. This is partially due to the negative publicity that high profile doping busts cause while confronting the problem. As a result, leagues can seem like they’re at their worst when it’s actually improving.

That’s where Olympic sports and MMA currently find themselves. Competitive athletics are just now beginning to really confront their PED problem. And even though problems are clear and the testing has improved, there’s still no cohesive solution. But it’s clear people are trying to find an answer:

  • In December, some athletes proposed boycotting competitions where they feel regulators are not doing a good enough job.
  • In March, we talked about FairSportan organization founded to support and protect whistleblowers in the athletic community.
  • Now the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is launching their Integrity Unit, a group create and monitor their new monitoring program and made up of people with “significant experience in the field of anti-doping”.
It’s clear there is an interest and it seems like the blueprints are there, but the athletic community is still years away from undoing the damage they’ve faced over the past few years.
Former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe understands these challenges, but she’s still hopeful. During the World Anti-Doping Agency’s “WADA Talks” series, Radcliffe spoke about how these agencies are adapting to confront PED use [via InsideTheGames.biz]:

“The integrity unit is going to be really important moving forward, I think that is going to be ground-breaking in terms of having an independent body protecting the integrity of the athletes and looking out for the athletes’ rights across all things. I do believe it is a cleaner sport than it was coming into it as a child, there is more support there…

I think there are a lot of areas which need to be improved, primarily the quality and standard of the testing. We have to get to the stage where the testing is good enough that an athlete can prove they are a clean athlete and I am not sure we are quite there yet. I am not sure that everything that is being used and manipulated out there is able to be picked up in the testing. We need to get to equality of testing, that wherever you are in the world you are subject to the same standards of testing and compliance as every other country. [But] we are a long way from that at the moment.”