Performance Enhancing Drugs: Introduction
The Tour de France is considered the world’s most competitive bicycle race. Each summer top cycling teams from around the world compete in the three-week event, which sends riders on a grueling, multi-stage course through the mountainous countryside of Ireland, France, and Belgium. In 1998, the image of Tour de France cyclists as athletes at the peak of their natural abilities was tarnished by allegations of widespread performanceenhancing drug use among competitors. The “doping” scandal broke a few days prior to the start of the race when a masseuse for France’s Festina team, Willy Voet, was arrested after police found large quantities of anabolic steroids and erythropoietin, or EPO, in his car as he crossed from Belgium into France. A subsequent police investigation uncovered a wellorganized system, orchestrated by the team’s management and doctor, for supplying riders with illicit performance-enhancing drugs. The Festina team was suspended from the Tour, and further investigations by French police led to the suspension and withdrawal of several more teams. Riders went on strike to protest the investigations, and less than half of the original competitors finished the race.
French authorities are not alone in punishing athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. From the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the National Basketball Association (NBA) to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), most high-profile sports organizations have taken substantial steps to crack down on doping. Stronger anti-doping initiatives are considered necessary to preclude scandals that damage the image of sports and to silence critics who contend that not enough is being done to rid sports of drugs. The IOC, for example, which enforces the rules of the Olympic Games, set up the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999 as an independent body charged with coordinating a consistent system for testing Olympic athletes. WADA works with international sports federations and Olympic committees and has begun conducting unannounced, out-of-competition tests on Olympic hopefuls. This practice reduces the chance that competitors will rid their systems of drugs before being tested. The list of banned substances on the Olympic Movement’s Anti-Doping Code includes stimulants, narcotics, anabolic steroids, beta blockers, diuretics, various hormones, and drugs known as “masking agents,” which are used to prevent detection of illicit substances during drug tests. WADA is also investing more of its resources in developing new tests to keep pace with the changing array of drugs that athletes are taking.
Whether or not those who contend that drug tests remain easy to beat will be satisfied by renewed testing efforts remains uncertain. Clearly, however, performance-enhancing drug testing has affected the careers of many elite athletes. Athletes who test positive for drugs at the Olympic level are stripped of their medals...