Sport et Dopage par Pasquale Bellotti

Doping is a dramatic phenomenon that not only destroys the essence of sport at its very roots, but also undermines the very values of society. It is also a serious bioethical issue because drug-use places people's health in jeopardy and in many cases compromises the very lives of the athletes. We can therefore say without any hesitation that it boils down to an issue of protecting human life.

I will begin by listing some of the factors that have given rise to doping and continue to fuel this social scourge. Then, we will consider why it is becoming increasingly more urgent to marshal the efforts of those in authority to publicly acknowledge and consequently overcome such failures as the reluctance to take any notice, the indifference and the incompetence of those who contribute to the spread of is a dramatic phenomenon that not only destroys the doping in order to suit their own purposes or interests.

The number of people who have recourse to doping continues to grow. Conservative estimates by Libra indicate that, in Italy alone, 400,000 people were habitual drug users in sport in 2003 ; this rose to 450,000 in 2004 ; and to over 500,000 in 2005. It has also been shown that doping is becoming increasingly common even in the very poor countries. Experts think that this increase is primarily due to the commercialisation of sport: financial reward is now the rule, and earnings are rising all the time. The incentive of huge earnings, coupled by the economic and financial interests of their entourage, force athletes to continually step up the pace in order to achieve victory. In other words, it seems that the sporting world itself is inducing athletes to take performance enhancing drugs in order to meet the great expectations of others and has led to what many people call a " doping-prone environment " .

The incredible diffusion of doping creates multiple problems in its wake which are unfortunately linked to a certain malignant will, and in many cases hypocrisy, on the part of those working in the sports industry and making their money from it. For it is hard to believe that it is so hard to detect those athletes who use illegal substances, which almost inevitably fall into three well-known categories: 41 %     anabolic steroids, 28.6% growth hormones (including EPO in 14.3 % of cases) and 16.7% stimulants.

Neither can we say that we know everything about doping. In fact, doping is extremely dangerous precisely because we still know very little about the new frontiers it is opening. For example, we have no idea about the quantities of drugs being taken by athletes (which are far in excess of the levels recommended for therapeutic use), or the " mixtures " of different substances (usually ones that have never been tested for medical purposes), the length of time they are taken (which, if excessive, can have serious repercussions on the body), and the collateral effects caused by the interaction of different drugs (which can often be lethal, as the newspaper headlines frequently confirm).

What is even much more alarming is the fact that doping no longer involves only a few of the leading athletes, but now it extends to the new and extremely young athletes who are just entering the world of sport. So the question we have to ask at this point is. why we cannot stop the increase in doping? Who are the people responsible for it, and who are contributing to spreading its practice? First of all, it has to be publicly admitted that there are serious shortcomings in anti-doping monitoring which up until now are performed by testing urine samples. Not only are these urine tests unreliable, but they are carried out before competitions, whereas they ought to be performed during the athletes' training period when they are more likely to have taken banned drugs and substances. Furthermore, when we talk about doping we have to acknowledge that this involves a cultural problem. For it is often the parents of children who practise sport who conspire with this medicalisation of sport by asking their doctors for vitamins and food supplements that they see advertised, but these should not be used lightly. On the other hand, it is of no help in the battle against doping that doctors and trainers - those who ought to play a leading role in toppling the false myths on which sport is being built - remain silent out of sell-interest or for their own convenience.

Sponsors are also guilty of encouraging doping by exerting constant pressure on their endorsed players to perform since profits depend on their success. The 1999 European Union Conference on Sport spoke out very forcefully in this regard, by saying that " The fight should be targeted more at the real causes that contribute to the proliferation of doping. Drug culture and permissiveness. excessive competition, unduly high stakes, pressure from sponsors - commercial and/or institutional - should all be rejected ".

In the final analysis. the mass media are also responsible for this indifference and for neglecting this serious social problem. There is very serious misinformation regarding doping issues, and the results of surveys and investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies are often not publicized. Apparently, they are not " newsworthy " ! Mean-while, European statistics over the past five years show that millions of doses of EPO have been seized in Cyprus, 2.5 tonnes of steroids in Vienna, massive quantities of GH, EPO, anabolic steroids and stimulants in Barcelona and Brussels, 13 million doses of doping substances in Madrid and surrounding provinces.

In light of all of this, we can therefore see that what is missing above all is a genuine training in sportsmanship that pursues the values for which sport can be a vehicle and which educates young athletes to give the best of themselves though the type of training that is at the service and needs of the human person. Instead, the only objective that is offered to the athletes is that of winning, cost what it may.

Before the threat of doping, who has the duty to do something about it? Primary responsibility certainly lies with governments, who are supposed to enact robust laws to wipe out doping and promote clean sport. It would be appropriate for governments to ratify the agreements on international monitoring. The 1999 European Union Conference on Sport. held in Olympia, revealed that illegal doping in sport is on the increase. It went on to declare that the illegal production and trafficking of anabolic steroids has now become a law enforcement concern, and many countries have already changed their criminal law in order to prosecute these crimes. If this work is to be affective- the document slated- coordination must be improved between governments, police forces and customs authorities.

In addition to the national sports institutions (Ministry of Sport, National Olympics Committees, sports federations etc) which need great determination to address this problem, a major contribution can also be made by such international institutions as the International Olympics Committee (IOC) which recently made doping the fourth main current problem (joining gigantism, nationalism and corruption ), and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) that was created in 1999.

But the struggle against doping is not only the responsibility of governments and public institutions. All those who are involved in sport must help to solve the problem. According to experts, it is necessary to fully acquaint athletes, players and every person involved (parents, teachers, managers, physicians, etc) with the real dangers of using doping substances and with the results of epidemiological surveys on the long-term health of athletes: financial resources and appropriate technical tools must be supplied to the authorities responsible for controlling the substances that currently exist on the market; it must be made mandatory to introduce markers in doping drugs to facilitate their detection in anti-doping tests; the sports system must be rendered independent of the authorities responsible for carrying out checks and controls. so that they can work in total independence; in every sports discipline, the fixtures and calendars must be thinned out; rigorous and inflexible ethical rules must be enforced by sports medicine and its specialists; a general debate must be taken up regarding the ramifications of the world of sports' " quest for top performance ", and we have to take note of the fact that there are always huge financial interests that are underlying doping. In summary, we must promote a healthy vision of sport that extends beyond the sole goal of peak performance and is fully cognisant that the use of drugs in sport not only threatens the health of individuals but also negates the dignity of the person and the possibility of establishing genuine human relations.