The Olympics are starting, and not without controversy.
A state-run doping investigation has revealed that over 100 Russian athletes were given illegal anabolic steroids in order to enhance their performance during competitions. Despite these findings, the International Olympic Committee has decided to allow Russia to compete in Rio.
According to the IOC, they are trying to play fair. They believe that clean athletes should not be barred just because they are guilty by association.
However, this doesn’t answer the question of how the IOC plans to regulate steroid use during the Olympic Games.
Doping at the games is nothing new. Steroid use came to light once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, when reports that the East German system reportedly doped about 10,000 athletes, some as young as 11 years old.
Doping isn’t just at the Olympics, either. Performance-enhancing drugs can be seen in the famed Tour de France bicycling competition and American NBA. Even amateur athletes are using steroids at an alarming rate.
Athletic trainers, ethics professors, and sports writers are all calling for the IOC to lift the ban on steroid use in order to combat constant rule breaking. Their opinion: if there is really no way to stop the doping, why not allow it and regulate it for safety?
However, that raises even more questions. Once the Olympics start, it will be exceptionally difficult for Russian athletes — or any Olympian for that matter — to prove they went through legitimate testing and are not currently using.
Plus, it seems that some Olympic officials are more worried about their image rather than the athletes’ well-being.
Professor Yesalis, retired Penn State professor and expert on anabolic steroids, explains why to The New York Times. He says, “It’s all about marketing and perception. They don’t care about the health of the athletes. Doping just distracts from the mom, apple pie, Chevrolet image.”
And since Chevrolets are on the road in over two-thirds of the world, almost everyone at the Olympics can understand their global wholesome image they project.
One thing is for sure, though. Those who take steroids will have long lasting side effects, potentially for their entire life.
Russia’s doping cocktail, nicknamed the Duchess, is especially dangerous. Named after a typical Russian drink, it consists of the drugs Oral Turinabol, Oxandrolone and Methasterone. These hard to detect drugs are then dissolved in alcohol, Chivas whisky for men and Vermouth for women, letting them go undetected. The athletes then swish it around in their mouth, allowing the drugs to be absorbed by the buccal membrane, then spat out.
The Duchess came to be after Russia was outraged over “abysmal’ medal performance in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Russian ministry of sport demanded all their athletes be tested for doping, and all positives would be sent to the Russian deputy minister. If that athlete had stellar performance at the Olympics, then the Minister would throw out the sample, pretending to never see it, and allow the athlete to continue competing dishonestly.
But if the steroid use wasn’t enough and the athlete failed to perform to their specifications, they were deemed unpromising. They would be sent to quarantine to go through a regular laboratory process, which would then deter them from competing at any level.
Russia aside, doping is a problem for athletes considering the hefty pressure on the professionals to bring their country home gold. But steroids are not always the answer.
Even though Olympians generally start their sport at a young age, some health officials believe that being involved in other activities is a great way to combat the temptation of doping. In fact, female high school athletes are 92% less likely to get involved with drugs, most likely because of the fact they are simply too busy.
So where does that leave the Olympics? Antidoping expert and member of the IOC’s medical and scientific commission, Yannis Pitsiladis, believes the Olympic doping problem will “get worse before it gets better.”