Athletics Race Against Doping – Who is Winning?

May 18, 2013 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Drugs in sport is the current hot topic around the world at the moment and that doesn’t look likely to change in the near future. The Athletics Diamond league started last week and British 800m runner Lynsey Sharp was quoted as saying it was ‘a huge problem’ in her sport. She added ‘There’s a lot of people being caught but its nothing compared to the amount of people getting away with it.’

Currently in Athletics there are 24o men and women banned from the sport from 52 countries. The latest facing a ban is Turkey’s Olympic 1500m Champion Asli Cakir Alptekin who was charged a fortnight ago and if found guilty faces a lifetime ban. She was previously banned in 2004 for failing a drugs test. Which has many asking the question, should athletes caught doping be allowed to compete again.

India currently leads the world in terms of the most athletes from one country being banned with 51 athletes on the current list. India is far from being a major nation when it comes to athletics, but their 4 x 400m relay team won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, subsequently three of the winning four runners have failed drugs tests. More concerning is the fact that 11 athletes were caught for doping at the National Schools Championships.

As a developing nation the authorities have stated that they believe that the number is so high as athletes had unknowingly taken banned substances often at the behest of their coaches. The reason these athletes eat what the coaches tell them to eat is the fear of being replaced on the team or in the program should they refuse, and to be thrown out would bring dishonour to their families and community. If that is so then the coaches are the ones who should face lifetime bans.

In second place is Russia with 38 athletes being blacklisted. This figure is believed to be so high as there has been a real clampdown in Russia as they are the host nation of the World Athletics Championships later this year. 

The President of Russian Athletics, Valentin Balakhnichyov expects more suspensions to follow before the Championships. ‘Its simple arithmetic: the more you test, the more people are likely to get caught. Together with the Russian anti-doping agency, we do more drugs tests than any other country in the world. Last year we conducted 3,500 tests and this year we plan to do over 4,000 tests in and out of competition.’ He is quoted as saying.

Interestingly it is Kenya who come in third equal on the table of shame with 13 athletes banned, the same as the Ukraine and just one ahead of the USA. The issue here is there is no Kenyan anti doping agency and only one laboratory for testing in the whole of the African continent, and that is in South Africa, which has led John Fahey the President of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) to describe Kenya as ‘a location of choice for dopers.’  The Kenyan authorities disagree and state that 90 per cent of the tests in which their athletes have tested positive, it has been because they have been taking medication which has contained banned drugs.

It was in fact the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) that collected some of these positive tests on the Kenyans after being asked to administer tests at the Olympic trials. 

The USA tested 488 athletes last year and they were tested 1,542 times. Where a few eyebrows have been raised is in relation to the athletes who have been caught up in the testing and in some cases found guilty. Sixty four year old Masters runner Roger Wenzel being one to be suspended for taking a prohibited stimulant. Then there is the relatively unknown long distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein who was tested by USADA 21 times in 2012. There have been some high profile athletes snared in their net of testing, and that includes sprinter Shawn Crawford. 

Despite athletes regularly being caught many question the uniformity of the testing and whether all nations are following the same guidelines. Will doping ever be stamped out completely that is unlikely, but hopefully progress is being made to limit it. One big positive from an Australian perspective is that there are currently no Australian athletes on the banned list for the sport of Athletics. 



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