Tuesday, March 14, 2006

http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v99/n634/a03.html

SPORT, DRUGS AND IT'S TIME FOR HEADS TO ROCK AND ROLL

Neil Drysdale Says That Drug Usage Is Making A Mockery Of The Sporting Ideals

While eco-terorists engage in conflict against genetically-modified foodstuffs by burning crops and gaining royal patronage, and the use of recreational drugs, whether ecstasy or cocaine, has increasingly become the crime that dare not speak its name, sport continues to be plagued by the march of the monsters.

Within the past week, Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit has claimed there is widespread substance abuse in football; Michelle de Bruin's four-year ban from international swimming has predictably been ratified by the IOC; Scotland's European champion, Dougie Walker, has spoken of his personal torment as he awaits the verdict of a doping panel; and the former cycling hero, Marco Pantani, whose exploits in last summer's notorious Tour de France earned him the adulation of his compatriots and admission to 'la dolce vita', currently finds himself the latest spokes-personality to find his reputation in tatters over a positive blood test and allegations that his huge success owes more to the laboratory than any God-given talent.

It's a reminider, if any were required, that we are fast approaching the development of the GM athlete, created then fortified by science and immune from detection by the testers. Log onto the internet these days and virtual reality has been transformed to hard fact. Peptide hormones, diuretics, HGH, endogenous steroids, human chorionic gonadotrophin....

Here is a polysyllabic realm in which the progress of the boffins allows these competitors prepared to cheat a pass- key to their wildest dreams of lucrative sponsorships, Olympic gold medals and the inevatability that even if they're eventually trapped, the mess of litigation which ensues will drag on in sufficiently Jarndyce-like fashion to convince a sceptical public that their suspicions are correct. Namely: "They're all at it."

Ultimately, this cynicism will prove the death of sport if it's allowed to rage on unfettered, but according to Frank Dick, the respected coach and mentor to a wide range of sports stars from Boris Becker to Gerhard Berger and Daley Thompson, we've passed the stage where hand-wringing and why-oh-why editorials are the answer.

Either we simply cry havoc and let slip of drugs, permitting everyone to take whatever substances they want, or we decide finally to stamp down on those for whom the pharmacy is a shortcut to success.

Not with a minority of cash-strapped testing agents either, but by governments and the IOC finally combining to ram home the message that the next generation of Johnsons, Flo-Jos and De Bruins will not be allowed to pollute the Olympic ideal.

"It's easier said than done when you acknowledge that some variants of HGH are nearly impossible to detect, and that the development of drugs like creatine has muddied the waters, but I don't believe, and I can't believe, that the problems are insurmountable and that we should complacently hand athletics, cycling, swinning and the rest over to the druggies," said Dick. "The fact is, though, that the present rules were devised for amateurs not professionals, and that the limited funding available to the testers is completely inadequate to deal with the scale of the abuse. In a perfect world, the breakthrough would come when people did the right thing because they wanted to, not because they had to, but the incentives and inducements are so huge nowadays that's probably a pipe dream.

"Yet it has to be recognised that science is on the move and too many sports bodies are standing still. The UK Sports Council has just formed an Ethics Committee and maybe that is one way forward. But, at the moment, we're only scratching the surface. What's the government doing? And what have previous governments done?"

Precious little is the immediate response as you might expect from a body whose PR geniuses produce images of copulating insects designed to discourage teenagers from having sex and similarly obscure and/or simplistic anti-drug messages. But even the prudes and puritans have to accept it's never been enough to tell youngsters: "Just Say No."

Instead, the International Olympic Committee has to grasp the reality that in a world of test-tube babies, cryogenics, the development of GM substances and animal cloning, science and sport are inextricably linked and that, if new performance-enhancing supplements are placed on the market, as long as they're both safe and legal, there should be no obstruction to athletes employing them to improve their standards.

As for the remainder, those materials with horrific side-effects - such as the growth hormone preparations which have been linked to CJD - the only course of action open to the IOC and its political counterparts, is to invest significantly in eradicating the scourge with regular out-of-season sampling, blood testing and contracts signed by athletes confirming that they have not contravened the regulations.

"The IOC established a $25 million anti-doping agency in February but we need the government to offer more than merely spiritual support," said Craig Reedie, one of Britain's two committee members. "Because unless sport gets its act together, national legislation will have to be enacted here, as it is in France, and drug-taking will become a criminal offence."

Cycling has already proved what happens when you allow the gendarmerie to turn an event into a Tour de Force. Other sports should be watching and worrying and waking up to the possibility of suffering the same dreaded fate.

[Sidebar:] THE DRUGS THEY TAKE, THE THINGS THEY DO...

AMPHETAMINES

Amphetamines can increase aggression as well as reducing tiredness and fatigue, allowing competitors to perform at their maximum for a longer period. They have a long history of use, especially in cycling. British cyclist, Tommy Simpson who died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France was found to have amphetamines in his bloodstream.

Side effects are a rise in blood pressure and body temperature as well as an increase in anxiety.

ANABOLIC STEROIDS

Perhaps the most famous sort a illegal drug, anabolic steroids help build muscle, and strength. They are therefore widely used by power athletes who rely on explosiveness like weightlifters and sprinters. Endurance athletes, like cyclists, long distance swimmers and triathietes also use them however to help them recover from the effects of their heavy training loads. Testing is done by measuring the bodies' level of testosterone to epitosterone.

Side effects are well documented and include mood changes and other psychiatric and psychological conditions, hypertension, skin disease and an increased chance of suffering a stroke.

BETABLOCKERS

Are used to control the effects of anxiety and also to slow down the heart rate. As such they tend to be used in sports requiring a steady hand and great precision such as archery or shooting.

DIURETICS

Used to bring about dramatic weight loss and as such are favoured by the likes of boxers and jockeys. Also the type of drug that Diego Maradona used before the 1994 World Cup in which he failed a drug test. Diuretics can also be used to increase urine volume in an effort to make the detection of small quantities of banned substances more difficult.

PEPTIDE HORMONES

Often referred to as "designer drugs" these amino acids are designed to simulate the actions of the body's natural steroid hormones, increasing the body's anabolic capabilities. Worryingly, there is a possible link between the use of human growth hormone and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease.

BLOOD DOPING

Blood doping simulates the benefits of training at altitude, boosting the body's red blood cell count thereby increasing endurance. In days gone by blood doping was achieved by taking blood out of the body, storing it and then reinfusing it into the athlete's body. In recent years this inconvenient and time consuming method has been superseded by the use of the drug Erthyropoietin ( EPO ). EPO was originally developed to counter anaemia resulting from kidney failure but is now the drug of choice for endurance athletes and was at the centre of last years Tour de France scandals. EPO is impossible to detect and so the cycling authorities have decreed that a haematocrit level above 50% is both unsafe and an indication of drug taking.

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