The murky world of drug cheats

Use of performance enhancing drugs in sport traces back to the golden age of the Greek and Roman civilization

By Samiddha Kalmith Rathnayake.
It is with Jani Chathurangani’s episode that the topic of steroids has begun to rock the sports arena again. It is not the first occasion that one of Sri Lanka’s athletes has got caught in this trap and it will not be the last.
We only hear about such things occasionally, for the Europeans the matter is a bit different. In fact according to history it is the Roman and Greek tribes that used mushrooms, as a steroid, to improve performance for the first time in the world. History also reveals that athletes taking part in marathons used to get a ride from supporters who came in chariots in order to get ahead of fellow competitors. There have also been stories of men undergoing sex change operations and taking part in women’s competitions. All these un-sporty acts suggest that athletes over the years have tried to gain glory even if they had to cheat.
But the common word ‘doping’ that is used to refer to this subject originated from the word ‘dop’, a liquor of an indigenous South African tribe which was used as a stimulant.
In the recent past anabolic steroids were first alleged to have been used by a Soviet athlete in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. But this distasteful topic caught the attention of the entire sporting world in the early nineties, when, Ben Johnson, a Canadian, stormed the arena with his super speed. Later it was revealed that it was the steroids that did the trick for him and he got banned from the sport for the rest of his life.
In an era where technology and drugs matter more than the talent of the athlete, the local sports authorities are having a new set of plans to face the oncoming challenges in the field. Dervin Perera, the head of the Sri Lankan Athletic association, is the most troubled person when such a matter arises.
“It is not the easiest of situations to handle and I have been unlucky enough to experience the same situation in previous years also,” a worried Dervin told The Nation.
Continuing on the topic he remarked, “Personally what I believe is that the athletes should take a major share of the responsibility in this matter. Sports personalities competing at the international level are not helpless babies. If the coach is forcing them into doing this they should inform us, that is what we are there for, and we will help the athletes in this situation.”
Perera also said that at present the rules are in place even to punish the coaches who push athletes into this sort of trouble. “We can ban them from coaching up to a certain period or even cancel their license to coach. We normally organize seminars and workshops for the coaches and athletes in order to give them an idea of the banned drugs that are in the market. But still there are unfortunate incidents like this,” he said.
Veteran sports medicine doctor, Geethanjana Mendis, when contacted said that the younger athletes should be determined to avoid these kinds of pitfalls that are in the field. “Any kind of sport has got a bad side also. If you want to always be on the correct side you will have to keep away from drugs,” he said.
When matters go on like this the future does not appear to be that bright for the athletes. Perera said that they were planning to have a special program to give the athletes in schools a detailed knowledge of the drugs and other energy enhancers that would be dangerous to use. “We were a bit late to start this programme but I think we must give the youngsters in the athletics field the correct idea of what to take and what not to take,” he continued.
With his final words Perera brought out a strong point. “It doesn’t matter what era you are in. There are ample examples from the past though I don’t want to mention the names. Drugs like Nandrolin are likely to cause harm to your whole system, success is short term but the damage done will be permanent.” Fine words spoken by a veteran on behalf of the rest of the athletes.