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Doping in sport

What is doping and what impact does it have on competitive sport? This article provides some answers.

06.07.2020 | Library Am Guisanplatz, Mathias Kobel

Cyclists during a cycling race (image from Pixabay).
Cycling has seen several cases of doping in the past (image from Pixabay).

Sport has taken a back seat in the present COVID-19 pandemic. Several major sporting events such as the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the UEFA European Football Championship or the Wimbledon tennis championships have been postponed for a year. Doping tests have been partially suspended, and sports professionals are warning that this is encouraging substance abuse, i.e. doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) defines doping as the presence of one or more illegal substances in an athlete’s body, the administration of prohibited substances or the use of unlawful methods in sport. Under the Swiss Olympic Doping Statute 2015, athletes who trade in or use such substances, or who refuse testing or violate their duty to cooperate are liable to a penalty.

Antidoping Switzerland publishes a list of illegal substances and methods at least once a year. The list is binding for all member associations and their athletes. In the event of substance abuse and depending on the degree of violation, the disciplinary board of Swiss Olympic may impose a temporary or lifelong ban on the athlete.

History of substance abuse

The word ‘doping’ first appeared in an English dictionary, in 1889. It described a mixture of opium and narcotics administered to racehorses. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) published a list of illegal substances for the first time in 1967 and established a drug-testing programme for the 1968 Olympic Games.

A year earlier the cyclist Tom Simpson died on Mount Ventoux from a cardiac arrest during the Tour de France, triggered by taking alcohol and amphetamines. The anabolic agent known as ‘blue beans’ and developed in the 1960s as ‘Oral Turinabol’ was very effective in boosting sporting performance and was used by athletes in East Germany in the 1970s.

Competitive cycling has been rocked by several scandals around the Tour de France, including the Festina affair in 1998 and the Fuentes doping scandal in 2003. Both involved athletes using illegal substances to improve performance, such as erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production to improve the intake of oxygen. EPO has been detectable since 2000. Other forms of blood doping such as blood transfusion, which increases an athlete’s endurance performance, are still difficult to detect. 

Switzerland, a pioneer in the fight against doping

On establishing a testing laboratory for doping at the research institute of the National Centre for Sport in Magglingen in 1967, Switzerland assumed a pioneering role in the fight against doping. Under the 1989 Doping Statute of the Swiss Sports Association (Schweizerischer Landesverbands für Sport SLS), all members were obliged to take measures to combat doping. The Statute also established a special commission for combating doping (Fachkommission für Dopingbekämpfung FDB). Today, the Antidoping Switzerland Foundation, established in 2008, is tasked with compiling doping lists, conducting tests and working collaboratively with international organisations. Testing takes place during competitions or training and with no advanced notice. The process is conducted under strict regulations.

The sports media library of the Federal Office of Sport FOSPO has a wide range of resources on doping and can provide support with research.

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Papiermühlestrasse 21 A
CH-3003 Bern