One big challenge that faces athletes today is the temptation to use illicit drugs. This is called doping. Doping is the term used in sports to refer to the use of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs or substances by sports persons to unfairly gain undue advantage over fellow athletes in competitions. Doping has come to become a virus trying to destroy the spirit, integrity, image and value of athletics, as well as athletes’ health. Consequently, doping is prohibited by all sports authorities. The sanction for doping is ban. It is not enough to identify and nurture talented athletes into professionals. They must be given vital information on the dangers of doping. Information is power. Information guides choice. Information counters ignorance. Information equips the mind.
In professional or elite athletics, there are pressures. This is applicable in other fields of human endeavour. From my experiences, observations, interactions and inferences, I have come to identify these pressures as the root causes of doping in sports especially among African sports men and women. I will attempt to look at how athletes can handle each pressure to avoid fallen into the dangerous and heavy hands of doping and the natural consequence of being banned. The pressures are:
1. ETHICS-DRIVEN PRESSURE – Ethics consists of the standards of behavior acceptable in a society or profession. Here members of the society or profession are expected to conform to certain standards. Being ethical is doing what the law requires. Any deviations come with sanctions.
As athletes you should know that you belong to a profession. Every profession has principles that guide its practice. It is designed to protect the integrity of the profession. Laws against doping and other acts of cheating are designed to ensure equal opportunity for all athletes in competitions.
How do you handle ethics-driven pressure?
a. If you must be an athlete, make effort to know what the ethics are. If you do, you will play by the rule which is good for your career.
b. Internalize the ethics and apply discipline.
b. As athletes, put it at the back of your mind that “Winning is something but it is not everything!” There is dignity in fair participation.
c. Sports administrators and coaches should make deliberate effort to mould the minds of young athletes from even primary schools. They should be taught very early in their career, the lifelong benefits of playing by the rule and consequence of cheating.
Expected Result – An ethics-compliant mind will easily resist doping.
2. EGO-DRIVEN PRESSURE – Ego is an inflated feeling of pride in the perceived or real superiority of one person to others. Here the athlete wants to always dominate. No dull moment. No off day!
Gifted people are naturally egotistic. Athletes are gifted people. It is no surprise if they are egotistic. However, being egotistic is an attitudinal problem that drives people to live on the edge. Ego can make you to refuse to accept your limitations and drive you to adopt unfair practices to excel.
How do you handle ego-driven pressure?
a. Coaches are very important here. It is their duty to tame the ego of young athletes while at the same motivating them to become the best. It is a tough job but it has to be done.
b. As athletes, you should know and recognize that there temporary phenomena called “off days” and “burnt-out” and permanent phenomenon called “aging” and “performance decline”. These things happen because you are human. Do not be ashamed to experience any of them.
Expected Result – Accepting temporary setbacks as motivation to do better next time rather than a disgrace will make doping unnecessary.
3. IGNORANCE-DRIVEN PRESSURE – Ignorance is lack of vital knowledge or education. Here the athlete lacks requisite information or does not know how to get information. She knows there are limitations but she is helpless. Consequently, people around her make certain decisions on her behalf with possibility of exploitation and abuse.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If people are let off the hook on the account of ignorance, every law breaker will plead ignorance. That’s not good for the society. If you test positive to banned performance-enhancing substances as an athlete, get ready to be ‘hammered’. No mercy! It does not matter if you unknowingly or mistakenly took food supplements that contain traces of the banned substances. You can shout, cry and plead. The bottom-line is that you still get banned. It is the law. If you must have on tracks or field you must conform to the ethics.
How do you handle ignorance-driven pressure?
a. There is lack of information about doping at both amateur and professional level. Federation should take it upon itself to do proper education.
b. As athletes or budding athletes it is your responsibility to get familiar with the list of banned substances. It is not enough to run round the field everyday. Find time to read and browse internets visiting sites of bodies like IAAF, World Anti-Doping Agency, etc.
c. Be careful of the food supplements you take. It may contain illicit substances.
Expected Result – An athlete that has complete information on the consequences of doping will find it easy to resist doping.
4. STAKEHOLDERS-DRIVEN PRESSURE – A stakeholder is an individual or group with an interest in the success of an athlete in delivering intended results and winning medals. Typical stakeholders of an athlete include relations, coaches, fellow athletes, The Federation, individual officials of the Federation, sponsors and Government. Here the athlete is “held hostage” and exploited for diverse reasons. It is important to note that a stakeholder whose interests are not being covered at any point could sabotage the athlete.
Athletes should learn to take their destiny into their hand because it is their career and their life that are involved. Coaches, relations, Federation, etc can only guide you but vital decisions and actions will be made by you. And get ready to take responsibilities for those decisions and actions.
How do you handle stakeholders-driven pressure?
a. Be a true professional. Do not get involved in Federation politics. You could be set up. Chanel your grievances officially without unnecessary militancy.
b. When you quarrel with your coach or an official, be vigilant because they might get back at you roping you into doping scandal.
c. Do not allow anybody to push you to the edge where doping could become an option. If you do, you will get banned, the newspapers will scream “Fall from grace to grass” and relations and friends will avoid you. And then you might sink more into drugs.
d. Banned athletes should not be abandoned because at that point in time they need help to bounce back.
Expected Result – If athletes know that when hammer for doping comes down, it will fall heavily on the athletes only, they will shun doping.
5. ECONOMIC-DRIVEN PRESSURE – An economy is the ways in which people use their environment to meet their material needs. Here the athlete is determined to earn as much as possible before her career is over.
Athletes need money to meet their needs and in most cases have family members who are dependent on them. It is a fact that economic pressure drive people to commit crimes. Discipline and self-content are required in life to stay above board.
How do you handle economic-driven pressure?
a. Athletes should know from the beginning that there is life after athletics. Education and skills acquisition are important.
b. Be smart enough to secure employment while you do your athletics. It helped me. I am sure it will also help you.
c. Invest whatever money you make wisely
d. State Governments and Corporate bodies should support and reward our athletes financially and with employment opportunities.
Expected Result – Economically enlightened athletes will always plan ahead, avoiding the temptation of doping.
6. COMPETITION-DRIVEN PRESSURE – Athletic competitions like examinations come with pressure. The most hit are usually the unprepared, the badly prepared and of course the mediocre. For those who prepared or trained competitions are necessary steps for career progression.
Athletics like any endeavour in life has minimum entry requirements. Even at that, not every body that enters excels. Many are called but few are chosen. Every budding athlete must make sure she has the physique, the strength and the speed. If you do not have the right combination of these, you will struggle. Not every athlete ends up on international scene. Some are created to compete at school level or at state level only. Do not force yourself.
How do you handle Competition-driven pressure?
a. Make you sure you have what it takes to succeed so that you would not have to cut corners.
b. More athletic competitions should be created to develop and prepare our athletes for international competitions.
c. No need taking athletes who did not make required time or marks to competitions. It puts unnecessary pressure on them.
d. Good welfare packages and training programmes should be developed to avoid athletes burning-out before major competitions.
Expected Result – When athlete is well prepared or recognizes her limitations in a competition, she will be less tempted to engage in doping.
Doping has ruined the career of many promising athletes. It can ruin yours if you do not apply wisdom and restraint. Compete fair and clean.
*Chioma Ajunwa is currently a Police Officer in Nigeria. She won gold medal at 1996 Atlanta Olympics and silver at 1997 Paris World Indoor Athletics in long jump. She has set up Chioma Ajunwa Foundation to mentor young athletes on how to compete fair and clean. She is married.