The use of steroids by sportsmen and sportswomen has long been a contentious topic, none more than in Australian sports. And one which has sadly continued to blight the games we love to play and watch.
To fully get a grasp of the magnitude and dangers of steroids, you firstly need some insight into the background of steroids. Steroids, or specifically Anabolic steroids, are performance-enhancing drugs, and they achieve this by building muscle tissue and increasing body mass by acting like the body’s natural male hormone, testosterone. Such drugs allow athletes to increase lean muscle mass and build strength and endurance, as well as helping sportspeople reduce fat and recover quicker from potential injury. This gives users a distinct advantage over “clean” competitive counterparts, thus making the very notion of competitive sports obsolete, as it gives the user an unfair advantage, the very definition of cheating. Which, in turn, undermines the integrity of the sports we know and love.
In an anonymous survey of several thousand amateur athletes, nearly 57% confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs in the past year, according to the “Journal of Sports Medicine”. And this frequent usage of illegal steroids has blighted various sports over the past 50 years or so. With numerous high-profile cases darkening major sporting events. Such as in 2019 the “World Anti-Doping Agency” banning Russia from all major sporting events for four years, due to extensive doping violations. Another example is Lance Armstrong losing his seven Tour de France titles due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs. These are just two of the various substantial cases within the mainstream media in recent times.
Australia, like most countries, has been enmeshed in major doping issues in sports due to steroids. With the competitive nature of sports, making steroids an extremely viable option for any athlete. To give them that competitive “edge”.
The first major noted case of steroids being used by an Australian sportsperson dates back to 1977, when professional Rugby League player Graham Olling admitted to buy Anabolic steroids in Australia, however, at the time it was not illegal.
This is because the Australian Sports Drug Agency Act did not come into force until 1990, meaning generations of athletes could have taken performance-enhancing drugs without facing serious repercussion; as a result, steroids usage has been a troublesome trend to try and counter.
Australia was one of the first countries to establish a sports anti-doping agency and is a leading member of the “World Anti-Doping Agency”, showing proof of the nation’s intentions to try and stem the tide regarding steroids in sports.
In 2013, “Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Amendment Bill” was passed, which provided “Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority” (also known as ASADA) with increased investigation powers, to try and stamp down on steroids practice in sports. This Amendment might have been created partly because of the tormented history Australia sports has had with performance-enhancing drugs, especially in recent years, leaving the country with profound international embarrassment in a sporting sense.
High profile cases, such as Olympic canoeist Nathan Baggale, who in 2005, was banned for 24 months for using steroids. As well as professional Rugby League star Rodney Howe, who was banned for 22 matches for using Stanozolol, a type of Anabolic steroid to name but a few. These are just two examples of the influence of steroids in Australian sports, and it seems no matter what sports, its impact is prevalent.
But the two most prominent stories, which effects still resonate with Australian sports years later is that of AFL club Essendon and NRL club Cronulla. In 2011 both professional sporting clubs were embroiled in an illegal supplements’ saga. After extensive investigations, both teams were found guilty. 34 Essendon players banned for 12 months stemming from the 2012 program after a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled the players were injected several times with a banned substance. Then 10 Cronulla players accepted a doping ban in 2014 as the result of their drugs scandal as well.
These cases and many others were disclosed in the “Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport” a 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission, investigation the widespread use of substances in professional sports in the nation.
The report sent shockwaves on an international scale, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA for short) president John Fahey stated, “This was the blackest day in Australian sport.”
With advancements in illegal sports enhancing drugs, the ease of accessibility, and the competitive nature of the sports industry making more money than ever before. The pressure to take steroids continues to grow, even starting at the foundation level. So much so, that steroids are now being obtained at several Secondary schools across Australia. According to recent reports, 3.2% of boys and 1.2% of girls in Secondary school students are using steroids due to societal pressures.
Aspiring Australian young athletes desperate to make it professional, are being given such performance-enhancing drugs by coaches, academies or even family members to provide them with the best chance of being successful in their respective sports. And this in itself is a massive factor regarding the use of steroids by sportspeople. As many athletes are pressured at an institutional level to take steroids, and in doing so are taught such actions are not unethical.
With the next generation of sportspeople, one wishes that the world and specifically Australia can leave behind their damaged image when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. And the Australian Crime Commission strict handling of the Essendon and Cronulla scandals, as well as the overall national condemnation of such events, breeds a glimmer of hope into the countries future attitude and image regarding steroids. The relatively newly formed Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Amendment Bill is a further cause for optimism, in the hopes of clamping down on the use of steroids in sports.
But sadly, due to the fragmented history that Australia has with performance-enhancing drugs, which has left the country still healing from the scars of past cases. As well as the significantly increasing global external factors and forces straying pressured athletes, who will do anything to get to the top of their respective sports, that positive future still appears uncertain at best.