The International Olympic Committee’s policy on doping has been instituted partly to protect the athlete’s health; however, high-level athletic competition is often an inherently unhealthy endeavor. If health is a factor then why are certain sports with high injury rates or the potential for serious injury allowed at all?
For example, many linemen playing American football weigh over 135 kg. These higher body weights are necessary to be successful at this sport; however, gaining large amounts of weight is unhealthy. Boxing is universally considered to be a dangerous sport, but is part of the Olympic program. Interestingly, there are no studies currently available which compare the harmful effects of sports with ergogenic aids.
On the other hand, there is information that suggests that the harmful effects of ergogenic aids, particularly androgens have been exaggerated . This is not to suggest that ergogenic aids cannot cause harm, but rather to place them in a more appropriate context. Certainly, one could posit that certain ergogenic aids such as androgens might offer some protection against injury due to their anabolic properties. Indeed, the misinformation concerning androgens has been so persuasive, pervasive, and prevalent that one would expect high rates of mortality associated with their use. However, there are no data that support this notion.
The fear of harmful effects as a result of androgen use, along with the fear of being found positive on a drug test has often precluded their beneficial use for medical reasons . Perhaps a reevaluation of the relationship between health and competitive athletics is necessary and reasonable.Other issues that are somewhat disturbing regard the attitudes held by International and National Governing Bodies (NGBs) towards the use of ergogenic aids. For instance, the idea that one can earn a medal in an event such as weightlifting without the use of androgens (or other illicit substances) has been put forth by the NGBs.
This, despite the fact that athletes believe that taking illicit ergogenic aids actually levels the playing field rather than provides an undue advantage. Consider men’s weightlifting as an example. Within weightlifting circles, it has been suspected for some time that weightlifters in certain countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, regularly use small doses of androgens in conjunction with intense training. Canada, Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the USA have about 7000 weightlifters, yet they do not win medals in the World Championships or the Olympics.
Eastern European countries have traditionally been dominant in weightlifting. It is unlikely that Eastern Europeans are genetically superior. Nor is it likely that Eastern Europeans have discovered a vastly superior training program that has been kept secret for 20 years. What is interesting, however, is that Canada, Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the USA all have had strict doping control procedures in place for 20 years.
Weightliftings finances (mostly derived through NGBs) as with other sports are usually directly related to how well they perform and to how many medals they produce in major events (i.e., World Championships and Olympics). Thus, governing bodies expect medals to be won knowing that it is extremely unlikely that their athletes can compete on an equal basis. This problem is not isolated to weightlifting.
There is still a great deal of argument over what constitutes an ergogenic aid both among sport scientists and sport administrators. However, there are extremes. Some sports officials have argued that almost anything that is not directly shown to be a naturally occurring nutrient should be banned. This would include vitamins and artificially packaged or refined substances including sports drinks. At the other extreme are those who would allow the use of any method of potentially increasing performance. Although the latter stance is clearcut, the former is not, as it requires definitions of what constitutes an ergogenic aid. Although most sporting authorities and sport scientists are not at either extreme they will tend to choose one side over the other. Thus, defining ergogenic aids is not a simple proposition.
For instance, androstenedione, DHEA, and a few related compounds can be legally sold without a physician’s prescription in the United States and several other countries. Whether they work as ergogenic aids is subject to debate . The IOC and its related governing bodies ban these compounds as they are related to androgens (which are ergogenic). Baseball, the NHL, and a few other governing bodies for professional sports do not ban them. In 1998, Randy Barnes, the world record holder in the shot-put, incurred a lifetime ban for taking androstenedione, Mark McGuire, who admitted taking androstenedione, broke a long-standing home run record. According to the mainstream media, Randy Barnes was deemed a disgraced cheater whereas Mark McGuire was a hero, even though they used the same substance.
The IOCs policy on doping basically states that the use of an “expedient substance or method” to gain a performance advantage is against the rules. The use of birth control pills to control the menstrual period during training and competition is not banned, yet clearly places women in an unnatural state. The argument in support of this practice is that the hormones supplied by the birth control pills basically represent replacement therapy . Increased training volume or intensity has been shown to decrease the testosterone concentrations in males and has been associated with symptoms of overtraining and overstress . However, the use of exogenous testosterone in males, even as replacement therapy, is banned. One could interpret this information to indicate that ergogenic hormone therapy is acceptable for women but not for men.