Drugs In Sport - Are Criminal Sanctions Necessary?

Recent comments made by the Olympic athlete, Carl Lewis,

have reignited the issue of whether the use of banned

substances in sport should be made a criminal offence in the

UK. Lewis advocated an urgent change of law to catch users of

banned substances and remarked to the BBC "I would

change the law - if you test positive, why can't it

be illegal?"

These comments have proven timely indeed. Similar questions

are likely to be raised throughout the forthcoming Beijing

Olympics. For example, if an athlete performs exceptionally in

Beijing and manages to beat a previous world record, suspicions

will doubtless be increased as to whether the use of banned

substances played a part in his achievement. Against a backdrop

of high-profile doping scandals in the world of sport, human

nature will incline commentators and viewers alike to point

accusing fingers first and ask questions later. So does this

mean that criminal sanctions should be imposed on the use of

banned substances in sport or are current sanctions


Arguably, current sanctions are not sufficient. We can see

this from the constant news spotlight on banned substances in

sport over the past six months alone. In the United States, the

renowned baseball star, Barry Bonds, has recently been indicted

on the grounds of perjury relating to an inquiry into steroid

use while Marion Jones, winner of five medals at the 2000

Olympics, has been imprisoned for six months for lying to

federal prosecutors about her use of steroids.

Such tales are not confined solely to the United States.

Here in the UK, the saga of Dwain Chambers' involvement in

the Beijing Olympic athletics has reached the finish line with

his attempt to obtain an injunction to force the BOA to select

him, notwithstanding a BOA by-law which automatically imposes

lifetime bans upon athletes who commit anti-doping offences,

running into a brick wall with the recent High Court ruling in

the BOA's favour. And of course the latest tales of drug

abuse from the Tour de France have once again served to remind

the world of the problems in cycling.

It is undeniable that high profile scandals (similar to

those outlined above) can create a perception that the majority

of sportsmen and women are drug-users and that those caught

represent merely the tip of an ever-growing iceberg. As current

sanctions appear to be failing to act as a deterrent, are Carl

Lewis, Paula Radcliffe and others correct in advocating that

doping in sport be made a...

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