By Iacovos Iacovides, APC Sports Consulting Ltd
In 2018, Ulrich, Pope, Cléret et al., published the results of an anonymised survey that was conducted in 2011-12 and asked more than 1,200 professional athletes whether they have ever taken Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). The astonishing result was 44% of respondents replying affirmatively. The topic of PEDs is a taboo in sports, but arguably the biggest problem that the industry has been facing since the introduction of controls in 1965 and their institutionalisation in 1970.
Doping which started in the 19th century with the use of alcohol and cocaine among cyclists has nowadays morphed into an entire underground industry aided by advancements in the ever-innovative pharmaceuticals sector. Some of the most popular methods include steroids, blood transfusions, human growth hormones and EPO, and aim at increasing the athlete’s endurance and strength—according to some studies by up to 38%. In what follows, I will discuss some of the adverse effects of PEDs on athletes such as; the health, psychological and financial effects with the aid of the infamous stories of Marion Jones, Diego Maradona, and Lance Armstrong.
A large number of athletes who have been caught red-handed have shifted the blame to coaches, physicians, partners—in the case of the Russian Olympic team fiasco in 2018, the entire state apparatus—and expressed complete ignorance as to what was given to them. Whether they are to be believed or not, PEDs can have extreme side-effects on the individual. They typically include cardiac complications, headaches, nausea and dizziness. In the case of men, side-effects can range from acne and baldness to shrunken testicles and reduced fertility, to high blood pressure and prostate cancer. Women on the other hand, can experience disturbed periods, facial hair and deepened voices. In their attempt to gain an edge in sports athletes are quite simply jeopardising their lives.
Psychological side-effects are also common, with many reporting rapid mood swings and paranoia, as a result of the strict schedule required to dope and its illegal status. On top of those, athletes who get caught have to cope with a variety of after-effects as well. Suddenly finding yourself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, the shame, the disappointment it brings to you, your friends, family and fans, is something you can hardly recover from.
As far as the athlete’s finances are concerned, it is almost guaranteed doomsday. In the blink of an eye, sponsorships, scholarships, incomes, savings, physical assets—you name it—everything gone. Marion Jones’ $1 million of endorsements gone, her $2.5 million home in North Carolina along with her mother’s house sold, in addition to the $80,000 per race of forgone income and the five years she spent in federal prison. Lance Armstrong was asked to pay $10 million to SCA Promotions Inc. for years of lying and deception, while all his sponsors— $75 million in monetary value—deserted him without a second thought. Armstrong himself publicly said that his doping debacle cost him a total of $100 million; it even crushed the momentum of his charity—those Livestrong bracelets that anyone born in the 90s is probably familiar with.
Article 10(2) of the WADA regulations state that if you get caught once, you get a ban of two years—officially no games, matches even training—and the second time, signals a lifetime ban. Of course, only the lucky few get to strike number 2 because you are probably done the first time, unless you can pull a Maradona. But even for Maradona, when in the 1994 World Cup 5 variants of ephedrine were discovered in his blood, albeit towards the final stages of his football career at the age of 34, it unceremoniously ended his international endeavours. He nonetheless, managed to reinvent himself as a football coach and currently enjoys a decent coaching career. However, Maradona was one of the best football players in the history of the most popular sport in the world and his story is by no means the usual conclusion to a doping saga. Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong were not as lucky.
PEDs can have devastating effects on athletes; financially, psychologically, on their wellbeing and their career. The future looks even grimmer when one considers that gene-editing is on the up and up. But at the end of the day, the Money Smart Athlete should put everything into perspective and soberly do a simple cost-benefit analysis, in order to discover that doping is not worth risking everything they ever worked for. In a sense, it is like a house of cards; you might be able to evade authorities for years and beat dozens of tests, but it only takes the one for everything to crumble!