On The Beach: the dangers of doping

12th July 2017

On The Beach: the dangers of doping

This week is UK Anti-Doping's Clean Sport Week, aimed at raising awareness of the issues connected with doping in sport. As part of our new On The Beach series, we took the opportunity to catch up with our leading beach volleyballers to get their views on this most controversial of topics.

“Eat healthily; only take supplements from reputable suppliers that have been extensively tested and approved; keep an eye on any medication. If in doubt, check first. If you take something you shouldn’t, you’ve only got yourself to blame.”

The topic of doping in sport is a pretty straightforward one to tackle in the company of England’s leading beach volleyball players.

“Testing isn’t something that’s ever concerned us,” continues Chris Gregory, half of England’s #1 men’s pair, alongside playing partner Jake Sheaf, “simply because we’ve never done anything wrong. The multi-vitamins and protein supplements we take are all suitably approved. We wouldn’t risk taking anything that wasn’t.”

That’s simple enough when you’re in your usual training environment but the #1 women’s team of Vicky Palmer and Jess Grimson know that it’s not always so straightforward. At the time of our interview, they were about to head to China for back-to-back weekend events, leaving Jess concerned at the prospect of a pending fortnight of burgers and pizzas.

“There’s a nervousness about some of the local food,” she explained. “There can be substances in the local food chain, including hormones or steroids, which we wouldn’t be aware of but which could cause us a problem if tested. Therefore, Tour players tend to take their own food with them, just to be 100% safe, or eat only in Western outlets where the produce is imported. Clearly, a diet of Westernised fast food wouldn’t be great so we have to plan carefully!”

“It’s a shame that we have to miss out on what is a big part of the local culture,” adds Vicky, “but it’s just not worth the risk. Even after the competitions, if we accidentally ate something we shouldn’t, we’d have no idea how long it might stay in our systems.”

Valuable education

Both teams talk about the education available to them on anti-doping. Seminars at university, briefings before major competitions such as the London Olympics or the European Games, online questionnaires to renew their Play Clean certification through the FIVB every season; they’ve been through them all and are grateful for all the effort the authorities put into this area.

None of them have any substantial fears about their sport being prone to doping though. Part of that is down to the authorities but it’s also partly because beach volleyball isn’t seen as a sport where performance enhancing drugs could play much of a part.

“Beach volleyball is more about skill and technique than it is about physical power or endurance,” explains Jake. “Simply jumping higher or hitting harder isn’t necessarily going to win you more matches. Performance enhancing substances wouldn’t have the impact on results that they could in other sports. Of course, you hear the occasional rumour about an athlete or two but, on the whole, I have no reason to suspect that our sport is anything but clean.”

The women agree, even though one Italian player tested positive and was ejected on the eve of the last Olympics. “Clearly, that showed that the sport isn’t immune and it really helped raise awareness of the topic but I think that was just a one-off”, says Jess. “At the junior levels, I would guess that recreational drugs might be more of a concern, as the sport can be associated with something of a party lifestyle, but performance enhancing drugs at the top level are, I think, extremely rare.”

With both teams hopeful of competing at next year’s Commonwealth Games, they know that the focus on anti-doping will intensify and that 24 hour movement schedules will have to be provided to the testers. “It’s a shame that any athlete feels the need to cheat,” says Vicky. “Sport should always be a level playing field. Playing a sport that doesn’t lend itself to performance enhancing drugs means we can be quite sheltered from the subject. But I’m more than happy to be educated even more on the topic and tested as often as needed.”

On The Beach: the dangers of doping