Who’s doped up? Where? By what methods? Doping map of the world

For years, we have been amazed by the talent of Kenyan runners. They effortlessly surpassed their competitors. Genetic factors were considered the main reason. Then, one of the athletes revealed that prohibited pharmacology even reached the youngest generations there. Soon after, the Kenyan Anti-Doping Agency reported 23 cases of fraud. Why didn’t they publicly disclose the names?

For some time now, the number of global doping scandals has noticeably decreased. And that is concerning news. It should worry supporters of fair play, at least. Professional athletes are not among them. If they were, there would be no doping in sports.

Of course, there are still occasional scandals, even involving Olympic medalists or world record holders, but the scale of the issue doesn’t compare to the events of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The tsunami has passed, and the wave has subsided.

The last extraordinary star tarnished in the mud was Lance Armstrong. The last state-sponsored doping factory was Russia. However, this shouldn’t be understood as if the problem has been solved. On the contrary, it is only better disguised.

Three factors have influenced this. Firstly, the development of pharmacology with genetic doping at the forefront. Secondly, the corrupt practices of high-ranking officials in international federations (the IAAF president covered up for the Russians for a bribe). Thirdly, the apathy of public opinion.

Today, the presence of doping in sports surprises and outrages few. There has been so much of it, so frequently reported by the media, with officials loudly expressing remorse and caught athletes deceiving in convoluted ways, that people have become tired and unfortunately accustomed to it.

Moreover, it was a cunning plan. Sports bosses quickly realised that you can’t win with doping. What was possible, however, was issuing official condemnations and silently allowing the dirty game. It was all about money, and money likes silence.

From the beginning, a simple manipulation calculated to wear out public opinion was employed. Starting with Ben Johnson in Seoul, a big star was thrown to the wolves time and time again. Marion Jones, Javier Sotomayor, Diego Maradona, Alberto Contador, Maria Sharapova, the list is long, and the icing on the cake is the aforementioned Armstrong.

The message of these operations was clear. If even legends cannot expect leniency, then nobody can. So, what now? The world of sports is fighting doping firmly and ruthlessly. Round of applause, encore! Well, not necessarily. Because that’s when the opinion arose that everyone is using, but only a few are caught.

In doping cases, the principle of presumption of innocence is very helpful. However, it doesn’t make detection easier but rather aids in concealing fraud. That’s how it was with the mafia that supposedly didn’t exist. That’s how it was with corruption in football that supposedly didn’t exist. The common knowledge about both didn’t matter. Guilt must be proven.

It was only when Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion, when the Prime Minister of Italy turned out to be connected to the Mafia, and when one “black sheep” flying around the field with a whistle turned into a mighty flock, it became evident that what supposedly didn’t exist actually did.

Doping in sports has never entered the path of purification. It has remained in the realm of global deceit. Perhaps it’s due to the low societal harm of the act. If someone wanted to create a doping map of the world, there would probably not be a single white spot on it.

A clever corruption strategy

Ever since Kenyan runners appeared on the stadiums, their talents and athletic potential have been admired. And not without reason, as they effortlessly outperformed their competitors. They only stumbled occasionally against Ethiopians or guests from Eritrea.

Experts readily attributed their success to genetic factors. However, a man from their own ranks poured cold water on their heated heads. His name is David Lekuta Rudisha, the world record holder in the 800 meters.

In one of the interviews, he publicly stated that black pharmacology is spreading like a pandemic among the runners in his country. It even affects the youngest age groups. Mainly because Kenyan boys want to beat the Ethiopians. And they don’t believe that it’s possible without doping because they know and see what the older athletes are doing.

This revelation didn’t really bother anyone, so the caravan continued moving forward. After some time, the news started to leak out. In April 2022, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the agency responsible for fair play, recommended extending the “A” category, which represents special oversight by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), for Kenyans.

The execution procedure was entrusted to the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), which disclosed to the local media 23 cases of fraud and information about 9 ongoing investigations.

However, ADAK only shared the names of the athletes with local officials and those directly involved. The decision whether to make them public was left to the athletes themselves, which seemed like shooting themselves in the foot, but it turned out to be a clever corrupt strategy.

The suspended male runners publicly announced that they were taking a break due to injuries. The suspended female runners, who were actually in peak form, claimed to be going on maternity leave, thus halting their competitions. Meanwhile, both the men and women had to pay up.

To whom? Of course, to the people from ADAK. Noah Businei, a former athlete turned coach, revealed that some athletes were demanded to pay between 7 to 8 million Kenyan shillings (around 260,000 to 300,000 PLN) to prevent their names from being made public. And that settled it...

However, what amused me the most was the information about so-called experts. These experts supposedly emphasise unanimously that the issue of doping is not developing in Kenya with the approval of the government, as in Russia.

But what is ADAK if not an agency of the Kenyan state, funded by taxpayers’ money? Moreover – my, oh my – it is also a subcontractor for WADA, the organisation that spectacularly fights doping worldwide and equally spectacularly loses.

There is no Hercules today who would cut off the head of this hydra. And even if there was one, he wouldn’t have the desire to do so. Neither in sports nor in its surroundings. Such an amputation would be too costly. Not only do Kenyan controllers live off the existence of doping. The queue of beneficiaries is long. The waiting ones are not consumed by shame, but by greed.

Like the Holy Grail

Kenyan children no longer believe in clean sports, even though they are just starting their careers. One could say it’s sad. But what can be said about the overall situation that leads to the conclusion that hardly anyone believes in clean sports anymore?
Kenyan Esther Macharia won the Singapore Marathon in December 2022. After an anti-doping test, she was disqualified for four years for testosterone use. Pictured at the finish line of the 2017 Bangkok Marathon. Photo by ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA / Reuters / Forum
Prominent talents, enormous sums of money, cutting-edge technology, and a phenomenal organisational structure in the sports industry do not prevent individuals from seeking the added value that doping provides.

Doping has become something akin to the Holy Grail. The difference is that nobody seeks it because access to it is easy, but without it, motivation and belief in success diminish. This applies not only to athletes but also to coaches and officials.

  Today, no athlete trusts their rival. They either know or suspect that their competitor “is using”. Therefore, they see no reason for personal abstinence. They consider stepping into their opponent’s shoes as a necessary choice. After all, why should they lose to someone who is less talented but better enhanced? That’s how they explain it to themselves and proceed.

Victories and medals bring tangible benefits. Good results pay off more than average. This gives rise to a peculiar paradox. Contemporary sports might be one of the few areas of life where the phrase “positive result” carries a negative connotation.

This Holy Grail has an undeniable influence on sports communities. Norway serves as an example. In this picturesque country known for its pristine nature and clean air, it is difficult to find an athlete who does not have asthma.

And that’s not all. Evidence indicates that they must have asthma to pursue professional sports. Asthma requires treatment, and medications can contain various substances, including banned ones, which effectively mask the alleged illness and real therapy.

Once, the Norwegians sent a junior team to Italy for a cross-country skiing championship. All the children had asthma and were taking medication. When the media pressed the team’s supervisors, the coaches explained that cold weather harms asthmatics, so it was for their health protection. However, at that time, the temperature on the Italian slopes was 15 degrees Celsius above zero.

Norway has a population of 5 million people. To have a strong sports presence, which they do, they cannot rely on chance. Preparation-perfection and precise training are the foundations of their success. Therefore, they created an organisation called Olimpiatoppen, which centrally trains elite athletes in various disciplines, not just skiing. They work with the best coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, supported by state-of-the-art technology. In short, they have established a central factory of excellence.

And what do they gain from it? Naturally, they achieve many positive results in various arenas and an increasing number of “positive results” in laboratories, which triggered a reaction from WADA, threatening to suspend the Norwegian anti-doping agency.

The main reason was the internal regulations regarding doping control, or rather, the clever circumvention of international rules. According to the Norwegian concept, underage athletes cannot be tested without parental consent. This regulation applies to athletes aged 15 to 18. In other words, it’s okay when a nearly eighteen-year-old young athlete comes for a test hand in hand with their father. It’s not okay when a zealous controller shows up where the young athlete trains to check them.

This clearly turns monitoring principles upside down, where unannounced visits by agency officers are paramount. Moreover, it undermines the purpose of the entire oversight. It’s worth noting that many ski jumpers have won significant medals before reaching adulthood.

Double standards

The Norwegian invention is surprising, but the American one is even more so. The U.S. Senate passed a law that allows the United States to prosecute foreign athletes for doping while excluding a large part of American sports from its provisions. And it became quite amusing.

The law is called the “Rodchenkov Act” (named after the former head of the Moscow laboratory who is hiding in the USA). Its creators are very pleased because it “improves conditions for those who do not cheat” in the fight for clean sports.

Well, it’s good, but not too good, as my friend would say. And WADA sees it that way too, which is why they are grumbling. In principle, they are not against it, although they are not explicitly in favor of it either. After all, concern for all the honest athletes in the world should also apply to all the honest athletes in the USA.

However, the extraterritorial clause is a Pandora’s box from which political demons will surely emerge in a retaliatory response: if Uncle Sam goes against us, we will get mediaeval on them... Honestly, this law is ridiculous and was created by hypocrites.

When it comes to doping, Americans have just as many skeletons in their closet as the Soviets or the comrades from East Germany. Władzio Komar, who liked to know what was going on, revealed secrets about both American and German throwers in “this matter”. He learned a lot.

East Germany had the status of the “Black Beast” at that time. It was seen as an empire of evil in the world, even though three-quarters of the globe were already tainted by doping, and all useful information spread like a virus through unofficial channels.

It was in California that the BALCo laboratory was established. In theory, it was a nutrition centre for athletes, but in practice, it was a mega-doping facility. It didn’t matter that the US government didn’t control it, as athletes from across the country and global clientele of foreign stars utilised its services. When it came to nutrition, the facility’s employees were open to the needs of their customers. Downstairs, simple anabolics were provided, while upstairs, they concocted the enhanced THG. The range of sports disciplines included track and field athletes, basketball players, football and american football players, cyclists and so on.

As for Armstrong, he also burdens the account of the US Anti-Doping Agency. Allegedly, they held evidence against him in the closet for a couple of years, allowing him to win for the glory of the USA. They cut him off when he aged and no longer promised outstanding success. Moreover, the media attacked them and criticised their actions.

The “me first” mentality unites the world of sports in the so-called fight against doping. The American law illustrates this quite well. It is unknown what knowledge senators have about doping. But they shout “Catch the thief!” Of course, abroad. And that can be unsettling.

Grandma is already home...

Every country has its own form of doping charade. However, the essence remains the same everywhere. It’s about chasing the rabbit, not catching it. The less they catch, the less noise surrounding it, the worse it is for the cause. Relative silence highlights the magnitude of horror.

In an atmosphere of deceit, new generations are growing up and getting involved in sports. Kids see nothing wrong with using doping. It’s not just in Kenya that they pump themselves up to the max. Perhaps they see it as a game of hide-and-seek or tag. In any case, the problem is growing.

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Recently, the French were horrified to discover that children who are just starting out in sports are taking drugs and typical performance-enhancing substances to achieve better results. According to conducted studies, teenagers consider such substances to be completely natural.

In an anonymous survey conducted by the French Academy of Medicine, approximately 15 percent of respondents admitted to regularly using doping. The study focused on age groups between 9 and 15 years old. Sources of supply include home medicine cabinets, parents, club coaches, doctors, or peers.

It doesn’t take much imagination to predict how this may unfold in 5 or 10 years when young athletes become adults. There’s no point in expecting rehabilitation therapies. Dealing with doping addiction is somewhat similar to recovering from drug addiction, but only to some extent.

One difference is that drug users lose money, while doping brings financial gain. Both sectors operate within closed circles: the producer, distributor, dealer, clientele. Both industries operate in secrecy, led by trusted and well-paid individuals.

Drug dealers operating covertly don’t have to worry about the health of addicts. Doping protectors, who also work discreetly, have to maintain appearances. They declare strong opposition, pretend to be concerned – in short, they act like fools.

Doping addiction cannot be effectively cured because the treatment is symptomatic. The cases that are detected are just the tip of the iceberg compared to the undisclosed ones. In reality, the world of sports doesn’t have a doping problem. It has a problem with fabrication. Constantly inventing new deceptions. Different countries employ different strategies.

The Chinese deal with it in a straightforward and military-like manner. If there is a leak about doping in China, the whistleblower is sent to prison. They won 100 medals at the Summer Olympics in Beijing with the fraternal assistance of former coaches from East Germany, whom they eagerly employed.

German experts also shared a few proven methods with them, ensuring that athletes become clean. Of course, after thorough washing and rinsing. Without a mandatory visit to the “laundry,” no Chinese athlete is allowed to step into the sports arena. This is how it was done for years in East Germany and all the other communist countries, including Poland.

Dr Xue Yinxian revealed this information on ARD television. She was a doctor for Chinese athletes and, at the time, 79 years old, so she had little to lose. According to her estimates, doping in China involved 10,000 athletes. And it was not just a matter of involvement; it was considered a patriotic duty under the principle of “those who don’t use doping harm the motherland.”

To avoid confusion or misinformation, each athlete was notified by a controller from the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency that they could attend the event because they were clean and freshly washed. The secret password for this communication was “Grandma is already home.”

Widespread doping

The list of countries infected with this virus aligns closely with the number of IOC members. There are hardly any countries missing from it. The areas affected are much more extensive than those mentioned above. In Africa, in addition to Kenya, there are Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Togo, Morocco, Algeria, and the list goes on.

Not long ago, the entire business of athletics relied on one man for nearly a decade. That man was Usain Bolt, who never tested positive for doping. Part of the reason was his role as a pillar of the sport. However, some of his relay teammates and several Jamaican female sprinters faced serious troubles.

In Europe, Germany is particularly concerned about doping, although their democracy also absorbed a significant number of coaches from East Germany. Poland, too, was not on the sidelines during the communist era, and incidents occur even now. Russia is well-known, but no one is blameless.

Doping is as common as the practice of sports itself. Thick smoke from widespread doping hangs over amateur marathons. Runners are not tested because controls are costly, and organisers save money.

Will this trend ever change? Definitely, but most likely for the worse. To defeat doping, we would have to close stadiums and throw away the keys to the Mariana Trench. In recent years, genetic doping has been undetectable. Technological doping mutates rapidly.

With new generations being trained and raised in the “culture” of doping, can we expect any improvement? Absolutely, but specifically in the effectiveness of pharmacological substances, technological gadgets, and methods of masking doping.

How should passionate sports fans react in this situation? Just like any driver on the road: with limited trust. This applies to high-ranking officials as well as the athletes themselves. We shouldn’t sympathise with the sick who insist on taking medications. We shouldn’t trust those with silver tongues who claim to love clean sports even more after being thoroughly washed. Clearly, this won’t change anything. However, it will be healthier for our mental well-being.

– Marek Jóźwik

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: The last unsung star to get muddy was American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Pictured after an anti-doping control after he won stage 11 of the 2001 Tour de France. Photo by Reuters Photographer / Reuters / Forum
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