There are people who want to debate the role of drug testing in sports, and so it is important to understand the benefits and limitations of drug testing in sport. It is important before looking at the benefits and limitations of drug testing that you know the purpose of drug tests. Drug tests are not about trying to catch cheating athletes, although it will do this. It is about promoting fair play and making sport safe for the athlete. The World Anti-Doping Agency tag line is “play true” and seeks to promote drug free sport. Most athletes are happy to be tested and to have testing in sports because it promotes fair play.
Benefits of drug testing
- creating a deterrent for athletes who may consider to use drugs to cheat in sport
- promoting drug-free sport that incorporates fair play
- promoting safety in sport
- promoting equity in sport
- rewarding athletes for their ability, training and efforts
- protects athletes reputations
Limitations of drug testing
The use of drug testing in sport does have limitations in its use, which some people use to debate its place in sport, but this is not justified. Limitations include:
- not all drugs can be tested for. New drugs get created frequently, and until they are created tests cannot be developed for them.
- testing exposes the athlete (nudity) before the tester
- new prohibited lists are developed each year, which athletes need to know and follow as they are currently held responsible.
- testing is expensive.
Argue issues related to drug testing such as:
At what level of competition should drug testing be introduced?
Currently most drug testing occurs at the professional level, leaving recreational and amateur competitions open to drug use. It is currently not possible or cost effective to conduct drug tests on everyone at every level within sport. However, at the non-professional levels there are less motivating factors for drug use and the use of drugs is more likely to be recreational than for a sporting advantage. With this in mind, each sports club does have a responsibility to promote safety to those within the club and help promote drug free sport.
Which drugs should be tested for?
The number of drugs and the possibility for testing is very large. Each sport has a prohibited list of substances and methods. The main focus of drug testing is to test for performance enhancing drugs and drugs used to marks other substances. WADA and ASADA do not test for substances that do not affect performance or mask other substances that could affect performance.
What are the pros and cons of drug testing?
The pros and cons very closely tie with the benefits and limitations of drug testing. Drug testing promotes equity in sport and helps to deter drug cheats from using banned substances. It promotes athlete health and safety while attempting to maintain fair play. However, drug testing does not always catch athletes, and is often having to develop new testing methods for the new drugs being released. A false positive will also ruin an athlete’s career in sport if leaked to the media. It should be noted though, that false positives are very rare and athletes are often tested more than once to confirm usage.
Currently each case of drug use is considered individually. There are rules and regulations that guide the punishments for drug use, but like in the legal system, each case gets a different consequence depending on the circumstances. Often the consequences include: suspension or expulsion from the sport, fines and stripping of awards/title won. E.g. recently the Court of Arbitration banned 24 Essendon football players for 2 years after being found guilty of drug use (see ASADA media release here).