2017 in review: the year of doping scandals

Rife: 35% of amateur sports people say they personally know someone who has doped.

Can we ever trust athletes again? The worldwide love of sport depends on our belief that stars do not cheat. But in 2017 all that was tested by a succession of major doping scandals.

Headlines in 2016 were grabbed by Leicester City’s impossible Premier League triumph, and by the Chicago Cubs winning — for the first time in 108 years — the World Series of baseball. If that was the year when sport served as a joyful, escapist antidote to political turmoil, then 2017 is likely to be remembered as the year sport revealed its darker side.

The last 12 months have seen a succession of doping scandals. The latest involves Chris Froome, the 32-year-old British cyclist who is the reigning Tour de France and Vuelta a España champion.

In September a drug test three days before the climax of La Vuelta showed twice the permitted level of asthma medication in his system. If he cannot explain the results, he could be banned and stripped of his title. However yesterday Froome appeared bullish in an interview with the BBC, in which he insisted he “knows the rules” and there was “no wrongdoing”.

But the trouble facing British cycling is nothing compared to the cloud enveloping Russian sport. First the country was banned last week from sending athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. It follows a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency which found Russia operated a programme across the “vast majority” of sports.

Yesterday Vladimir Putin reiterated claims that the doping scandals are an attempt to smear his government before he runs for re-election in March.

Second, earlier on this year, Maria Sharapova made a controversial return to tennis; she had completed a 15-month ban after testing positive for a prohibiteded substance called meldonium. Many in the world of tennis believe that Sharapova, the world’s highest paid sportswoman, deserved to be banned for life and criticised her “lack of contrition” on her return.

Doping even overshadowed what many hoped would be one of the highlights of the sporting year — the last race of Usain Bolt’s career. But in the 100m final of the 2017 World Championships, Bolt was beaten by Justin Gatlin, who was previously banned for four years after a second doping offence.

Could doping destroy our love of sport?

Duped

A survey of 2,000 people in Britain in July found one third believe their trust in the sport industry has declined in the last 12 months. This endemic, systematic doping seemingly has support from the top. And if doping is so ingrained, how can anyone believe that what they are watching is legitimate?

Don’t be so downcast, reply others. In many sports, such as most major team games, doping is certainly not endemic. The public outrage towards people like Sharapova and Gatlin shows that there is less tolerance of cheating than ever. We will look back on 2017 as the year we said “enough is enough”.

You Decide

  1. Has 2017 been a good year for sport?
  2. Is doping eroding your enjoyment of sport?

Activities

  1. Class debate: “This house believes that any doping offences should result in a lifetime ban from any sport”.
  2. Write a list of ways people can cheat in sport. Are any of them worse than others? Why?

Some People Say...

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than win by cheating.”

Sophocles

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Doping remains a significant problem in certain sports. It is more prevalent in individual sports and in sports that emphasise physicality over tactical skill, such as running and cycling. We know that Russia has been a particularly bad offender in recent years, with the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted in Sochi now completely tarnished in the minds of many fans.
What do we not know?
Whether doping ever can be fully expunged from sport. There are a few people who do not believe it can, and who think that sport should simply adopt a more lenient attitude. Nor do we really know how clean some sports are: just because a doping scandal has not hit the headlines, do not assume that it does not exist.

Word Watch

Tour de France and Vuelta a España
Two of the most important stage races in cycling, along with the Giro d’Italia. All three take a little over three weeks and are both over 2,000 miles long.
Asthma
A surprisingly high number of professional athletes have asthma, including 70% of the British swimming squad and a third of the British Team Sky cycling team.
Meldonium
Meldonium is used to treat ischaemia: a lack of blood flow to parts of the body, particularly in cases of angina or heart failure. WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) found “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance” by carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue.
World’s highest paid sportswoman
Sharapova has made over $285 million in her tennis career, and her current deal with Nike signed in 2010 is worth up to $70 million over eight years.
Banned
Following Gatlin’s win, the chairman of the British Olympics Association Sebastian Coe said: “I’m not eulogistic at the thought of somebody who has served two bans in our sport walking off with one of the biggest prizes our sport has to offer.”