Sports: why sports people take drugs

The rewards for success in professional sport are manifold. That is, there are the financial rewards, including increased sponsorship and funding, for example, as well as the recognition and praise that follow success and accords hero status. These and other rewards would seem to be too compelling for some sportspeople and may encourage them to use artificial means to achieve them.

Reasons why Athletes use drugs in sports

Generally speaking, athletes do not start out using drugs. Some get to a certain point in their careers and then start using drugs. Athletes do it for what they perceive to be ‘good reasons’. For example, Tyler Hamilton, a Tour de France cyclist in the same US Postal Service team as Lance Armstrong, reveals in his book The Secret Race (Hamilton and Coyle, 2012) how athletes had to earn the right to take drugs.

However, not all drug use is associated with cheating. Weinberg and Gould (2015) outline that apart from the obvious performance-enhancing reasons, athletes can also choose to take drugs for the following reasons:

  •  cope with pain and help recovery,
  •  achieve weight loss to fit into a weight category or
  •  boost confidence and alleviate stress.

Exception cases of drug use

It is interesting that not all drug use is associated with cheating. Some athletes are permitted to take banned substances for certain conditions, such as asthma. That is, under the banner of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs).

In 2016 the medical records of several British and American athletes were leaked. Records including five-time Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Bradley Wiggins. He was shown to have taken a drug in accordance with the rules at the time. He had used a banned steroid before major races in order to relieve his hay fever symptoms. When asked about his use of the drug, he claimed he took it to ‘put himself back on a level playing field’. In other words, he took it to ensure that he was at the same level as other cyclists.

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