Athletes using drugs to enhance performance has become one of the greatest problems facing elite international sport. Major sports organizations, such as the International Olympic Committee, are putting a lot of time, effort, and money into the detection of drugs. The race between athletes using drugs and detection agencies seems to be just as fierce as sport competition itself.
Athletes have been using drugs or other stimulants to enhance performance for centuries. Even athletes in the ancient Olympic Games in Greece used various stimulants to enhance performance. However, since the 1950s the degree of drug use has risen to a level never before seen in human athletic history.
Drug testing began in the Olympic Games in the 1960s. One of the first sports to encounter drug use was cycling. During the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, a cyclist died from amphetamine use. In 1967, another cyclist died in the Tour de France cycling race. Around the same period, body-builders in the United States were experimenting with newly developed synthetic steroids that built muscle mass. As a result, the International Olympic Committee started testing for steroids during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada.
Probably the most famous case of an athlete using drugs was Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. After winning the 100-metre sprint in the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, Johnson’s drug test was found to be positive. Johnson took a synthetic steroid to build muscle mass and enhance power. Eventually, Johnson was stripped of his gold medal.
In the aftermath of Johnson’s positive drug test, the Canadian government conducted a federal inquiry into drug use in Canadian sport. The government inquiry was the largest one to have been conducted in any country up to that point in time. The results of the inquiry found that drug use among Canadian athletes was very common. The inquiry stated that there were problems beyond just individual athletes, such as Johnson, taking drugs to enhance performance. Indeed, it was stated that there was a moral crisis throughout sport.
Today, the race between drug detection agencies and athletes who use drugs continues. In January 2000, the International Olympic Committee created a new agency to detect drug use: the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA has provided increased resources for drug detection, especially in Olympic sports. Hopefully, WADA will be able to keep pace with the current moral crisis in sport.