“Sport is a very important subject at school, that's why I gave Quidditch such an important place at Hogwarts. I was very bad in sports, so I gave Harry a talent I would really loved to have. Who wouldn't want to fly?” - J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels
Even Greek mythology embraces the human desire to fly, as many of us might recall in the escape story of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, from Crete. He used wax and string to fasten feathers to reeds of varying lengths to imitate the curves of a bird's wings. Daedalus advised his son to fly at a medium altitude and follow his path of flight. If he flew too high, the sun could melt the wax, and if he flew too low, the sea could dampen the feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus became euphoric, and against the wisdom of his father, he glided higher and higher. The sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and the boy dropped into the sea and drowned.
This myth has its own interpretation in sport psychology; moreover, it serves perfectly as a foreword for this reflection on the prevalence of performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) in contemporary sports in which athletes are tempted to fly above human body limits or cruise too low under the radar of clean sport. At both altitudes, they gamble with their well-being.
In 1997, Bamberger and Yaeger surveyed 198 mostly US Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. They asked if the athletes would take PEDs under the hypothetical premise of not being caught and knowing they would be guaranteed a victory; 195 of 198 responded “yes”. Additionally, if the caveat was added that they would die from the side effects within 5 years, 61% of the athletes still said they would use PEDs.
From its inception, at the beginning of the 20th century, the modern Olympic movement has been struggling with PEDs. In the modern era, the first reported doping case was in the 1904 Olympics. Up until the 1920s, high-level athletes frequently used the mixtures of strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine. The assumption that doping is a recent occurrence that surfaced exclusively due to endorsements offered to quintessential super-athletes is a highly distorted one. Moreover, in the third century BC, ancient Greek Olympians used alcoholic concoctions, consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms, and sesame seeds to boost their performance. Various plants were used to enhance speed and endurance, while others were taken to numb pain, allowing injured athletes to continue competing. However, in ancient Greece, doping was considered unethical. Cheaters who were caught were banned for life and some were even sold into slavery. Roman gladiators as well used stimulants to overcome fatigue and injury.
Doping exists in almost all sport disciplines at every imaginable level, from young athletes, all the way to legendary champions. Moreover, given the lack of ethical discourse concerning the issue, even some leading scholars are misguidedly pondering the legitimate allowance of doping in sport. These problems are also found at the national levels of sport, notably in the emerging, developing, and least developed countries. The amount of money thrown at young athletes by multi-million dollar lucrative endorsements and professional contracts makes the sporting environment further prone to delinquency, and adversely impacts the life choices of families from the earliest stages of childhood development.
Former Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Richard W. Pound firmly formulated the intertwined complexity of doping prevalence in global contemporary sport: "Drug use, within entire teams continues unabated. It is planned and deliberate cheating, with complex methods, sophisticated substances and techniques, and the active complicity of doctors, scientists, team officials and riders. There is nothing accidental about it."
As JK Rowling noted: “Sport is a very important subject at school …”. Most people would agree that physical education and sport should be included in every society as a tool of character formation in children and youth. In developing countries, sport plays a crucial and natural role in gender inclusiveness. Successful athletes, often called ‘super-athletes,’ have always been looked up to as role models for younger aspiring athletes. The history of ancient sport and the recent history of the Olympic movement offer multiple examples where sport has been a vital instrument used by national leaders to unite a country and enhance a nation's image within the international arena. As a powerful global, social, political, educational, and economic phenomenon, sport must remain protected from benign neglect and dishonesty within.
The President of WADA, Sir Craig Reedie concluded: “We need to rally all sport’s stakeholders – including broadcasters and sponsors – to the clean sport cause. The public loves sport. In fact, gate revenues are estimated to cover one third of the sport industry’s total value; clear evidence of the public’s desire to watch sport en masse. Public opinion is also firmly in favour of a level playing field, and so we all have a duty to protect the clean athletes and ensure the fairest, most efficient system possible is in place for athletes across the world. Sport, government, athletes, broadcasters and sponsors alike share this important duty.”
The pressure surrounding the doping problem has reached a boiling point. Doping is a cancerous cell within global sport and physical education. It needs to be extracted by an immediate worldwide systematic and collective overhaul simultaneously for and by those who desperately yearn for sport that is ethical and clean. It would also be an especially gratifying service for the young generations now on the rise.
The USADA’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, made it clear: “This is not a sport issue. This is an issue for our country, for our youth.” All the stakeholders are exhausted and ready for a meaningful change from within the community of global sport. Interestingly, the young Olympians and Olympic hopefuls are starting to get fed up with cheating, and they openly express concern about the future of engaging in a sport contest that is free of doping. We cannot lose the war on doping. We must preserve the joy of the weightless state of mind, soul and body, while competing clean!
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