In a piece posted by the New York Times earlier this week, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revealed the terrifying results of a study done on exactly what percentage of athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs.
WADA distributed anonymous surveys to 2,000 track and field athletes in 2011. After poring through the results, they determined that roughly 29% of the athletes at the 2011 World Championships, and 45% of the athletes at the 2011 Pan-Arab Games, responded that they had doped in the past year.
So, in round numbers, more than one-in-four of the world’s top track & field athletes had doped.
That’s as compared to less than 2% of tests the year prior having come back as positive.
The researchers hired wanted to publish their findings immediately, knowing the kind of impact it would have on the sports community. According to the New York Times piece, however, they held the responses (see the NYT piece for full details on how that happened – we won’t recreate the wheel).
The test was on track & field athletes, not swimmers, but we have little reason to believe that swimming is any different. Taken into account, there’s a few clear conclusions.
One is that there is a huge amount of athletes in sports doping who are never even close to getting caught. The recent major league baseball exposing shows that the easiest way to catch dopers continues to be not with doping tests, rather through following the money. The sport would probably be cleaner if resources were invested more heavily in forensic accountants and private investigators than in drug testers (though that’s a scary leap to make).
Regardless, if athletes enjoyed doping and putting up mind-popping numbers, they all would have lied and just said “no, I’m clean.” At the end of the day, everyone is looking for assurances of a level playing field.
The results of this study might, in fact, only increase the number of athletes who are cheating. It might lead more athletes to seek out whatever is working to put themselves on an even playing field.
Secondly, the athletes seem to know how much of a challenge it is to get caught. In what reality would 45% of the athletes be doping if it weren’t fairly common knowledge within the sport that the odds of getting caught fell somewhere between slim-and-none.
And perhaps, the real story is that the results are an indicator that the athletes want it to end. If so many athletes were willing to admit to doping on promises of anonymity, even with how much trouble most of the sporting community has trusting their governing federations.
So, as tragic as they are for sports and the sports fan, maybe the recent mega-exposures in baseball and track & field that have left those sports on the brink of destruction are a good thing. Perhaps they have pierced this veil of invincibility and the numbers will go down. Ultimately, though, we have no idea if they will, because all we know is that even with these huge breaks, only a fraction of admitted dopers are being caught.
By the way: we’ve had sources tell us that at least one swimmer was a client of the anti-aging clinic that has been involved in breaking the massive baseball scandal, but have been unable to verify that vehemently enough to report that swimmer’s identity.