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When Is It OK To Use Drugs In Sport?

Chris Froome has notably been the latest sportsman to be accused of cheating.

Image via Flickr

Doping in sports is currently a hot topic.

New cases are continuously springing up, whilst governing bodies are responding by issuing harsh punishments. Medals have been stripped from athletes and entire countries have been banned from events, as is the case with Russia in the next Olympics. In many cases, these drugs do put athletes at an unfair advantage. But more recently there have been controversial cases that are less easy to condemn as doping.

Take UK cyclist Chris Froome, who has recently been called out for using salbutamol – a drug found in inhalers. Froome has had asthma since childhood and required an inhaler ever since, but now the UCI is accusing the cyclist of using his inhaler to gain an unfair advantage.

This begs the question – when is it fair game to take drugs and when is it cheating?

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Obvious cases of foul play

There are some drugs such as steroids that are clearly not ok. There are many sites such as dedicated to calling people out for using such drugs. Taking these performance enhancers may be acceptable for personal reasons, but when it comes to competition it makes sense to keep these drugs out of the mainstream sport. To allow these drugs could make it a competition about who has the best chemist rather than who is naturally the better athlete.

That said, there are some sports in which these drugs have been allowed, although usually, this is as a separate category and sport altogether. Weight-lifting, for example, has competitions that are clean and others that are untested. This allows athletes that want to stay clean and athletes that want to take performance enhancers to compete – just not together. Is this a division that should be brought into other sports?


Are supplements fair game? Most supplements rely on natural minerals and nutrients and so cannot be banned by sports organizations – there are no unnatural drugs being pumped into the body to instantly enhance performance. That said, there are a growing number of supplements on the market from shady retailers that have been found to contain steroids and stimulants.

Willingly taking these supplements should be classed as doping as it involves non-natural ingredients that can instantly affect performance. Sites such as offer more information on this issue and when it’s not deemed acceptable.

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Treatment medication

Treatment medication is where it becomes much more difficult to draw a line in the sand. Should someone with asthma be allowed to compete if their inhaler is potentially enhancing their performance? Many sporting bodies have a limit on how much an athlete can use their inhaler within a 48 hour period. Many see this as fair, whilst others think that it could be taking away people’s right to medication. The solution to this is still not clear – perhaps such athletes need to be recording each use of their inhaler within these 48 hours so that a valid reason can be supplied for its use? Or perhaps there needs to be stricter monitoring? Nowadays wearable smart tech should be able to tell when these athletes are truly struggling to breathe and when taking an inhaler is a justifiable response. It’s a rather excessive solution, but the only one that truly feels fair.

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