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Eunoia Society Lecture

Earlier this month, Dr Gareth Langley (University of Oxford) delivered a lecture on the topic of ‘social, sporting and scientific implications of Doping by high performance athletes’ as part of the Eunoia Society lecture series. 

Thank you to Sixth Form student Emily E, for providing the below report:

Dr Langley began by introducing some background information to help us understand the rules and regulations already set in place against doping and how they had come about. The first state administrated doping regimes were introduced in Europe in 1970s-80s after the usage of drugs in sport became increasingly common.

This swiftly led on to understanding why these high-performance athletes felt the need to take these drugs and whether they fully understand the physical and psychological implications. The banned drugs taken by the athletes fall into three categories: EPO, anabolic steroids and blood doping. EPO (Erythropoietin - EPO), we discovered, is a hormone naturally produced by the kidneys, but which can be artificially produced to improve the performance of, for example, athletes or cyclists. Noting that doping is self-harm in the pursuit of greatness, Dr Langley spoke of how drug-taking athletes become caught in a vicious cycle, with serious health consequence (and side effects of doping that are not fully universally acknowledged).

Dr Langley spoke of how some drug free athletes who put blood, sweat, tears and sheer dedication into their training, feel the pressure to take these drugs, as they are competing against medically enhanced ‘super humans’ who cheat to win races. Ultimately, a social implication of doping is that it is frustrating and disheartening for clean athletes who know that they will lose against enhanced athletes, knowing that their best ‘natural’ performance is not good enough.

What should be banned is a hot topic. We learned that the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) produce a prohibited list every year. Stimulants such as Narcotics and cannabinoids are banned as well as peptide hormones and anabolic steroids. For certain sports, such as archery, B-Blockers are banned. However, in 2002 an inhaler cost Alan Baxter a medal position due to his asthma. Therefore, where do we draw the line on acceptable drugs to use. Dr Langley raised the point that athletes take supplements with the knowledge that they aid recovery etc. so surely this is a form of cheating as well?

An interesting question raised in the talk was whether banning doping is about safety of the athletes or ensuring that chances of success are equal on the playing fields? We also learned that it costs £40 per to test an athlete, and in large scale events such as the Olympics it simply is not feasible to test everyone. Science is also slow to develop new tests resulting in athletes being able to use drugs for which tests have not yet been developed.

Overall, I found this lecture very interesting. I was surprised at the large scale of doping and the large sacrifices athletes make in return for the satisfaction of winning. The last point that was raised got many of us thinking: amongst the hype and atmosphere of large scale events such as the Olympics and the Tour de France can we trust the athletes standing on top of the podiums?