Athletes should not be entirely to blame for doping charges

September 7, 2018

Growing up, I loved Maria Sharapova, a Russian tennis player. But in 2016, she was just another famous face that joined a long list of doping athletes who were pulled from their sport. Even though Sharapova’s ban was only for two years, and eventually shortened to 15 months, it was enough to drop her to the low 200s in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. This is almost 100 spots lower than her ranking after being off the tour for nine months due to injury. Sharapova is lucky to be back in the tennis world, but her success is far from what it was before her ban.

For all the famous athletes convicted of doping, including world-renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong and most recently, American swimmer Ryan Lochte, the fate of their doping sentences are career-ending. Armstrong was stripped of his record seven consecutive Tour de France title. Lochte was recently hit with a 14-month ban, preventing him from competing until 2019, for his use of IV fluids to replenish the vitamins in his body, according to Lochte’s Instagram post.

Even though Lochte’s use of IV fluids is not a banned substance, athletes are not allowed to receive IVs unless it is related to any sort of hospitalization or an exemption approved by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Lochte’s costly Instagram post halted his future in competitive swimming with his 10-month ban in 2016, which came from a drunken mishap at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

In the case of Sharapova, she was charged for using Meldonium, a drug that assists those with circulatory and heart conditions, which had been banned right before Sharapova tested positive. Even though she claimed to have been using the drug since she was younger to help with her heart issues, Sharapova takes full responsibility for her drug usage, claiming she did not open an email sent by the World Anti-Doping Agency, explicitly listing the banned substances.

Sharapova is not the only athlete that has been hit with a ban for their use of Meldonium. According to a New York Times article, many Eastern Europeans and citizens in ex-Soviet countries take Meldonium, or mildronate, to combat various heart conditions. Many Russian athletes have faced bans since Meldonium was banned on Jan. 1, 2016 by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

But for cases like Sharapova and Lochte, their bans still give them the opportunity to compete in the sport once their bans are lifted. However, athletes like Armstrong are not as lucky, having been stripped of all his titles and pushed into an early retirement.

For all the highly publicized doping cases, there seems to be a common trend in the athletes’ reactions to their sentences. Though most take full responsibility for their actions and accept their bans, most, if not all, of the convicted do not blame themselves for their ban. So then, who is to blame? Athletes claim it is the Anti-Doping Agencies that maintain the rules, but the distribution of information among all athletes seems cutthroat or else everyone would be caught.

While I agree that athletes should be held accountable for their actions, the agencies that deal with the banning sentences and prosecution of doping athletes are also at fault. Even though there are always new drugs coming out on the market that can enhance the performance of athletes, some of the bans on athletes are completely unjust.

In the case of Sharapova, she had been taking Meldonium since 2006, a full 10 years before the ban was placed on the drug. Coming from a family with a history of heart disease and diabetes, the medication helped Sharapova take care of her heart and blood issues, not for the purpose of increasing her performance. While some may argue that the use of the drugs did technically increase her performance, her use of the drug was first and foremost for her own health.

While the anti-doping agencies are very good about reducing sentences and giving the benefit of the doubt to athletes, they should rethink their methods of informing athletes about the newly banned substances and create methods in which athletes are able to defend their drug use for medical reasons if they have been using the substances for years. Because it is often difficult to find an alternative to a medication that does so much good for one’s body, causing an athlete to stop taking a drug that they have been taking for so many years has the possibility to cause significant health issues when the drug is suddenly stopped.

In no way are performance-enhancing drugs good for the public image of an athlete, but sometimes the medications are necessary for everyday life, and an athlete should not be punished for that on its own.

Menu Title