Drug Testing in Professional Sports

The use of drugs to enhance athletic performance is not a new phenomenon. Even in the earliest examples of the ancient Greek Olympics were marred by reports of athletes consuming foods, herbs, or other items believed to give them a great edge in their performances. Today, drug testing has become a hotly debated topic and has cost many athletes their titles, careers, and reputations.

Early Examples of Drug Use

While steroids may be one of the most tested for drugs among athletes today, the concept of “doping” actually involved many different ingredients just a century or so ago. Back in the 1800s, cocoa leaves, caffeine, and even strychnine were used by runners, cyclists, and other athletes to increase their endurance and to reduce fatigue. During the 1904 Olympic marathon, the winner runner – a man named Thomas Hicks – actually used a combination of similar items to help win. Just a few short years later, some agencies were calling for restrictions.

Attempts to Stop the Problem

The International Amateur Athletic Federations, also known as the IAAF, were the first sports organization with an international reach to create a ban of the use of any substance that would have a stimulating effect on an athlete during a competition. Although they created their ban in 1928, no methods of drug testing were available so athletes could continue doping with impunity. And they did. In 1952, the Oslo Winter Olympics became notorious for the wide use of stimulants by participants. At the Olympic games in Rome just eight years later, Knud Enemark, a cyclist from Denmark, died after using amphetamines for performance enhancement. His death finally drove home the need for stronger efforts and drug testing of athletes.

The Creation of Steroids

Stimulants posed a mild threat to athletic fairness and health when compared to synthetic hormones, sometimes referred to as steroids, were developed in the 1930s and quickly became a popular addition to the doping repertoire. In fact, just four years after Enemark’s death, the use of steroids was being reported at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

More Bans

Between the mid and late 1960’s, testing was being implemented by a number of sporting associating, including FIFA. In 1967, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) determined banned substances and established its own drug testing policy. Five years later, the IOC would also ban anabolic steroids.

As a result of the implement drug testing policies, competitors were finally beginning to feel the consequences of their refusal to adhere to the bans. In 1969, the first athlete was prohibited from the competition because of drug use. That continued through the 1980’s when athletes were banned from the Asian Games in Hiroshima and several Olympic athletes lost their medals after testing positive. One of these athletes, Ben Johnson, had broken a world record for his 100-meter time.

Other Professional Athletes

Although doping bans gained hold in the amateur sporting federations, they began to take hold in the professional realm during the 1990s and have received more attention about the recent scandals of massive steroid use in baseball. Almost every professional athletic organization now has a ban on doping, as well as drug testing policies for their athletes.