Doping: And the Winners Are …

Yesterday I awoke to the news that, less than 24 hours after the Games had officially finished (with the flame extinguished and everything), New Zealand had won another gold medal.

Shot putter Valerie Adams had her silver upgraded to gold after her long-time arch rival, Belarusian Nadezhda Ostapchuk, had tested positive twice during the Games. With much speculation circulating in track and field about other doping cases, after several surprise performances on the track particularly, it got me interested in how deep this doping problem goes.

So a friend of mine pointed me to the list of athletes who are currently serving drug suspensions or lifetimes bans from the International Association of Athletics Foundations (IAAF). And with a little analysis it has turned up some surprising results.

The Results | For starters there are a staggering 179 elite track and field athletes currently banned (as of 11 July 2012, so that doesn’t include the many athletes banned just before the Games, nor Ostapchuk). 104 of these are male (probably not surprising considering male athletics has deeper fields). And there is even a 68-year-old American masters athlete in there (so it’s not all confined to the young’uns – imagine having your grandmother serving a drug ban!).

The offenses vary from non-compliance to the rules and silly mishaps (i.e. the 68-year-old should have applied for a therapuetic use exemption) all the way through to blatant doping. Ban lengths are typically two years, but there are a bunch of lifetime or 10-year bans as well.

The (Losing) Winners | But the question we all want answered is this: where do today’s drug cheats come from? Rightly or wrongly, some countries have a reputation for being dirty, but are those criticisms justified? Are they just using turtle juice? Or is it something more malicious?

So, I’ve done the tallies, and here are the results (bare in mind that this is only for current bans, it doesn’t take into account the steroidal 90s, or the dirty 80s, or the under-the-radar 70s … and who knows what they were doing during the arms race of the 60s?!):

Country MALE FEMALE TOTAL
India – IND 19 8 27
Russian Federation – RUS 5 17 22
United States – USA 7 2 9
China – CHN 3 5 8
Ukraine – UKR 2 6 8
Portugal – POR 6 1 7
Brazil – BRA 4 1 5
France – FRA 4 1 5
Nigeria – NGR 3 2 5
Italy – ITA 2 2 4
Kenya – KEN 3 1 4
Morocco – MAR 3 1 4
Romania – ROU 2 2 4
South Africa – RSA 4 0 4
Spain – ESP 3 1 4
Venezuela – VEN 2 2 4
Belarus – BLR 1 2 3
Bulgaria – BUL 1 2 3
Czech Republic – CZE 3 0 3
Slovakia – SVK 3 0 3
United Kingdom (Great Britain) – GBR 2 1 3
Egypt – EGY 1 1 2
Greece – GRE 1 1 2
Kazakhstan – KAZ 0 2 2
Moldova – MDA 1 1 2
Poland – POL 0 2 2
Puerto Rico* – PUR 1 1 2
Qatar – QAT 1 1 2
Turkey – TUR 1 1 2
Albania – ALB 0 1 1
Algeria – ALG 1 0 1
Argentina – ARG 0 1 1
Australia – AUS 1 0 1
Austria – AUT 1 0 1
Belgium – BEL 1 0 1
Benin – BEN 0 1 1
Croatia – CRO 1 0 1
Cyprus – CYP 1 0 1
Dominica – DMA 0 1 1
Finland – FIN 1 0 1
Georgia – GEO 1 0 1
Hungary – HUN 1 0 1
Iran – IRI 1 0 1
Iraq – IRQ 0 1 1
Ireland – IRL 1 0 1
Israel – ISR 1 0 1
Kuwait – KUW 1 0 1
Lithuania – LTU 0 1 1
Myanmar (Burma) – MYA 0 1 1
Saudi Arabia – KSA 1 0 1
Syria – SYR 0 1 1
Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) – TPE 1 0 1
Uruguay – URU 1 0 1

The big surprise here is obviously that India, which is a long way from being an athletics powerhouse, is way out the front. 27 athletes! When you think they could only muster 14 athletes to compete at the just finished Olympics (and they won zero medals), they have a hugely high doping rate. In fact, if a rising athletics does emerge from the sub-continent any time soon, you’d have to ask some questions. Interestingly, the coach of many of the Indian banned athletes is from the Ukraine and was fired shortly after his athletes tested positive.

Russia are next on the list. As opposed to India, these guys are very much a track and field powerhouse. They had 104 athletes toe the line in London 2012 athletics events, and came away with 18 medals. Even so, up to 20 per cent of their team were left at home because of drugs bans. That is pretty embarrassing for them and I hope the IAAF is putting pressure on this key country of athletics to up its game, because for every dirty athlete in your country it tarnishes the performances of all your compatriots as people are forced to connect dots.

After winning almost everything there was to win in London, USA find themselves in the unfamiliar position of third on the doping list, and a long way back from athletics arch rival Russia. The USA sent 125 track and field athletes to the Games, so with only nine banned athletes they have a much smaller proportion of their elites doping. But it’s still quite disappointing and certainly reminds us that the West can’t moan about Eastern European and Asian countries being the only dirty ones.

Sitting just behind the USA are China, Ukraine, and Portugal – all with similar sized problems. Beyond this, the numbers start getting too small and you really would need to look at individuals and individual coaching teams to pinpoint any particular problems.

Conclusion | Well, I’m gutted that so many elites (the heroes for the next generation) are cheating. And I’m also concerned how many are doing it and getting away with it. Hopefully they will be added to this list soon. I also think that the IAAF should make tables like this publicly available so we, the spectators, can be better educated and can raise eyebrows only when justified.

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