Olympic criminals: What direction is doping taking?

As doping continues to be exposed all around the world, it is showing no signs of slowing up.

Rosie Tudball

As doping continues to be exposed all around the world, it is showing no signs of slowing up.

Justin Gatlin ©Erik van Leeuwen

“As for the errors I make, the only punishment I acknowledge for having made them is my awareness of those errors, and having to live with it: there is, there should be, no heavier penalty on a person’s soul, mind and heart.”

The words of Lebanese poet Jouma Haddad, are words that can be applied to everyday life and mistakes that we all make. The quote refers deeply to the punishment of guilt, and how a mistake is self-punished through emotion, and alternatively how it can act as a mental deterrent.

Sometimes however, the feeling of guilt is not explicitly evident, as described by psychologist Sigmund Freud. “Unconscious sense of guilt can turn people into criminals.”

When psychology is fused with crime, the level of crime can be assumed as physical, however, on the subject of recurring crimes in sport, the severity can differ. The crime of doping in sport is somewhat overlooked, overlooked in the way that the perpetrator has the capacity to dope multiple times. The common punishment for doping is a suspension, resulting in the athlete returning to the track later in life. The aim of a punishment is to reform with the expectation that a crime won’t be committed again, we know in sport, particularly athletics, this isn’t the case.

Russia as a collective nation has been shunned upon due to the unforgivable actions of a vast number of athletes’ participation in taking performance enhancing drugs. 111 Russian athletes were dismissed from participating in Rio at the 2016 Olympics, and Russia was banned entirely from competing in the Athletics disciplines. It was a huge wake up call for those within the sport at all levels to fully understand the damage and potential circumstances of cheating with drugs. Russia were recently reinstated of their Olympic ban.

The decision fuelled conflict however, as 2 Russian participators at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics were called out for doping – a lesson not wholeheartedly learnt.

Figure 1: Map showing frequent doping nations ©Esri UK

Despite Russia’s lack of cohesion in competing clean, they aren’t the only nation to have been in the spotlight for doping. In 2013, Esri UK released an image showing the world’s biggest culprits of doping (image presented above). The results were shocking, and highlighted the realisation that doping is a widespread, serious issue for amateur and professional sport. Evidence collected by a BBC State of Sport investigation found that 49% of amateur sports people revealed their thoughts that performance enhancing drugs were easily available. A shocking and slightly terrifying statistic. The issue is everywhere, however in track and field, far west from Russia, the United States are not out of the limelight when it comes to doping. American athlete Justin Gatlin riled up spectators and competitors when he won the World Championships 100m last year. Gatlin has served two suspensions away from competing on track for two separate occasions of doping. The American has been side-lined for a total of 8 years of his career due to doping, hence the uproar following his win last year on the world stage.

Many questions have been raised surrounding Gatlin, and many others, the majority being why he is allowed to compete. The answer to these questions is of course that he has served his time and has had to face the repercussions of being caught doping with the judgement of the public eye. The questions should really focus upon how the issue of doping is tackled, as evident, the issue has adopted a recurring nature, which only sparks fear in the sport as suspicion is at its highest.

The future looks worrying for athletes, primarily for clean athletes who now not only face the physical and emotional strain of competing at a high level, but also competing against a colony of ‘super-human’ substance fuelled athletes. There have been numerous reports stating that athletes that choose to dope can provide a clear doping test – a disturbing prospect. Sport is a celebration of talent and teamwork, and at high level, an opportunity to put the world’s most elite on a pedestal to commend their hard work and innate ability, morals and practices that could be jeopardised should the issue of doping escalate.

The prospect of doping in sport has been evident for thousands of years, dating back to the earliest Olympic Games – estimated to have taken place at 776BC. It was speculated through study that Greeks would drink potions, take opium, hallucinogens and engage in practices such as game-fixing to their advantage. When considering the roots of sport, the ancient Greek Olympics set the bar for mega sporting events, birthing the Games as the spectacle it is today.

It’s in the history and roots of the Olympics to partake in doping, and despite efforts to keep sports clean, it’s proving to be a never-ending uphill battle to combat. There is suspicion surrounding the games, especially when revising the bans given to respective athletes.


Despite doping numerous times, Justin Gatlin has been cleared to compete, however British athlete Dwain Chambers was caught doping in 2003 and handed an immediate lifetime Olympic ban. Questions surround how some doping crime associated with certain athletes is swept under the rug, perhaps to stimulate competition and retain the drama, especially on the track.

Dwain Chambers after his comeback ©Erik van Leeuwen

Jamaican favourite Yohan Blake was banned for 3 months for testing positive for stimulants, a story that gained little media attention in comparison to his stature in the sport. Blake is an essential member of the world record holding Jamaican 4x100m relay team and the training partner of Usain Bolt, there’s little surprise that his ban was kept relatively behind closed doors. Bolt, and the Jamaican relay team were widely celebrated and loved all over the globe, mainly for their clean track record and of course their mesmerising talent. It would be a huge upset to athletics in general should any of the team get caught doping, a suspected reason as to why spirit dampening bans such as Blake’s are quietened.

Russia are taking the brunt for their doping activities, which is fair due to the magnitude to the doping. It is however, becoming a slight epidemic that nations turn a blind eye to their own issues in cheating, especially as Russia are currently taking up the entire lens of the doping microscope.

The future of sport is forecast a doping crisis, as technology improves, and camps are finding ways to dope without evidence. The presence of spontaneous drug tests was thought to have added some intimidation to athletes and their teams, but such methods cannot work forever. The future of fair games is up in the air, only time will tell if improvements can be made to reduce and abolish cheating behaviours in sport.

Rosie Tudball

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