The biggest myths about anti-doping
16th January 2018
Often, anti-doping is only discussed when a big story hits the headlines. This can lead to lots of myths and half-truths being popularised about the use of banned substances in sport.
UK Anti Doping (UKAD) works constantly with National Governing Bodies (NGBs), including with Volleyball England, to provide anti-doping education and to enforce anti-doping rules. It is also the responsibility of competitors and organisers to protect themselves and their sport.
If you’re involved with sport it is important to understand anti-doping rules. Here we debunk some of the most common myths about banned substances in sport and the impact their use can have…
Myth 1: Anti-doping rules only apply to professional athletes
It doesn’t matter what level of sport you compete at, doping is doping. In what one newspaper labelled as the ‘rise of cheating in amateur sport’, doping has been reported to becoming more common in amateur levels of sport in recent years.
In fact, it has been suggested that it can be even more tempting for the amateur athlete to cheat as there is not the same level of scrutiny of testing as in professional sport and there is still the glory of victory.
A BBC report from last year highlighted that over a third of amateur sport people say they personally know someone who has doped. Of the individuals serving sanctions for doping offences at the time of the report, 62 per cent were amateur sports people and a further 21 per cent were semi-professional.
The consequences of doping for an amateur athlete are still severe. As well as being banned from competing, it can destroy a reputation from a sporting and personal perspective.
Myth 2: A supplement will not contain a banned substance
From vitamin tablets and energy drinks, to protein shakes and sport-nutrition formulas, there are hundreds of supplements on the market. However, there is no guarantee that any supplement is free from a banned substance.
Before deciding to use supplements, do your research. Many supplements commonly used are not necessary if a person has a balanced diet and invests time in developing a basic knowledge of nutrition. Consider whether it is worth taking the supplements. Study what the ingredients contain and whether there will be any side effects. It could be worth discussing any supplements you take with a doctor or qualified nutritionist.
Informed Sport is a risk minimisation programme which helps athletes understand whether supplements are clean. Their website allows users to search for products to ensure they have been batch tested for banned substances. Find out more about their programme and other ways to ensure your supplements are safe on the Checking Supplements page of the anti-doping section of the Volleyball England website.
Myth 3: It’s difficult to get a hold of performance enhancing drugs
For many people reading this, they will have never given doping any thought. It probably comes as quite a shock at how widespread suspected doping is in sport. One of the things that makes doping so tempting to sports people is how accessible performing enhancing drugs are. A BBC State of Sport investigation into amateur sports found that 49 per cent of people thought performing enhancing drugs were “easily available” among those who play sport regularly.
One reason is that the internet has made banned substances much easier to get a hold of. In 2015, Mark Daly, a BBC correspondent, decided to investigate the world of doping, by becoming a doper himself. As a keen cyclist, runner and triathlete, Mark found that he could buy performing enhancing drugs relatively easily and that his performance was significantly boosted. A former head of UKAD, Andy Parkinson, was quoted in the piece as saying: "Ten to fifteen years ago, if you wanted to get your hands on a banned substance, you had to physically meet somebody and purchase it off them. Now you can sit at home, go online and order pretty much what you want. The really terrifying thing of it is you have no idea what you're buying."
Myth 4: Banned substances will not damage your health
Impotence, mood swings, mental health problems, risk of cardiovascular and liver disease, muscle and joint pain, and increased risk of death, as a result of strokes and heart disease, are just a small number of the impacts taking steroids or growth hormones can have.
For someone who dopes, the biggest thing they are risking is not being banned, a ruined reputation or a loss of sponsorship - they are risking their life.
For a more detailed explanation of the health consequences of doping, check out the UK Anti-doping’s advice on the health risks of doping.
Myth 5: If I’m found to have taken a banned substance, I can claim it’s not my fault
When it comes to doping, there is the principal of ‘strict liability’. This means that if an athlete is found trying to use a banned substance, or with one in their system, they are responsible, no matter how it got there or if they intended to cheat. Naivety or ignorance cannot be used as a defence.
Never take anything that you do not know what it contains and what is it for. It is vital for athletes to check their medications and supplements to ensure they are not inadvertently taking banned substances.
If you take medication it is important to check it is not prohibited. For sports people with genuine medical reasons for taking a medication which contain a banned substance, they can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).
Gaining an exemption includes providing evidence of your diagnosis and medical records. Even in this case, a TUE will only be granted if there is no ‘non-prohibited’ alternative available.
Myth 6: Cheats will not get caught
Even at levels of sport where there is no regular drug testing, cheats still get caught. Drug testing can occur at any event without any warning. Athletes chosen to provide a sample must do so, otherwise it is classed as a failed test.
UKAD also encourages athletes to be vigilant and protect their sports by encouraging people to report anyone they know is doping. If you suspect someone is using banned substances to gain an unfair advantage, you can report it anonymously either online or over the phone. Find out how to report a suspected cheat on the Report Doping in Sport page of the UKAD website.
Anyone convicted of cheating faces a sanction of up to a four-year ban from sport, as well as having their reputation ruined. As part of the World Anti-Doping Code, UKAD must publish a list of current sanctions, including the athletes’ names. The list can be found on their website.