Doping Over Quarantine

Doping is frowned upon and has been banned in almost all sports for decades. However, the recent Covid-19 lockdown made monitoring the use of performance enhancing drugs much more difficult. This raises a question -- did athletes use performance enhancers during quarantine to gain a competitive advantage?

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After winning the UEFA Champions League (UCL) with FC Bayern Munich, Leon Goretzka posed for a picture with the trophy. This photo immediately went viral across all social medias. Goretzka, who was very slender not too long ago, looked more like a professional bodybuilder than a soccer player, which shocked the world. Goretzka had seemingly become one of the strongest players in Europe in just a matter of months. Many of the other Bayern players also had incredible transformations. Alphonso Davies and Robert Lewandowski, for example, put on a tremendous amount of muscle mass. Questions began to arise about whether these players had used drugs to help them get stronger or if it was just the sheer amount of time that they had in the offseason that allowed them to do this. After all, these were exceptional players with near superhuman athletic abilities. However, was hard work alone enough to be able to get these athletes this much stronger in less than a year?

Virtually all competitive sports have monitored doping for decades. The frequent testing was enough to deter the vast majority of athletes from even considering the use of performance enhancing drugs, as they know they will most likely be caught. However, throughout quarantine, social distancing and lockdown protocols have made it significantly harder to carry out these tests. This gave athletes a golden opportunity to gain a major competitive advantage over their peers. This gives birth to the question—did athletes breach the integrity of their respective sports by taking banned substances to boost their performances?

The question still stands. Recent studies have shown that even taking a small dose of performance enhancers for a short period of time can have benefits that last for years. With infrequent testing during quarantine, the Bayern Munich players could have taken a small dose of anabolic steroids and removed it from their system within a few weeks. After doing that, it is possible that the levels of these steroids may have been too low to detect and by doing this, they essentially could have gained an advantage over other athletes that could last the rest of their careers. This, however, is purely speculation. There is no hard evidence so far to show that any athlete cheated. However, seeing some of these miraculous body transformations in such a small period of time raises many questions, especially because most of these top tier athletes were already training at such a high level before quarantine started.

Doping was actually far more prevalent than people realize before quarantine even started. A 2011 anonymous survey found that 44 percent of 1200 athletes surveyed had admitted to doping. However, only one to two percent of tests conducted were positive. This means that an enormous amount of cheating goes on even while anti-doping officials conduct regular testing. With tests few and far between for a 4-month period, the amount of athletes cheating could have skyrocketed. The New York Times reported that in April 2020, 4 months into the pandemic, there were only 576 blood and urine samples collected from athletes, compared to over 25,000 in 2019. Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said: “It would be naïve for us to think people have not taken advantage this time.” The New York Times also reported that in a survey of 1400 athletes, “More than 50 percent said they believed international athletes had used the lull in testing caused by the pandemic as a doping opportunity, and 30 percent said they suspected American athletes had done so.” Knowing this, it is not a question if athletes used performance enhancers, but rather, a question of how many did.

The effects of doping throughout quarantine will likely have an effect on sports for the next few years, and may cause doubts on athletes that legitimately achieve amazing feats. It is very possible that numerous world records will be broken in the upcoming years due to the number of athletes that could get away with doping. Some long-standing records have already been broken. Matthew Futterman reports, “Records in the men’s and women’s 5,000 meters and the men’s 10,000 meters, all of which had stood for more than a decade, fell in early October.”

Unfortunately, we will not know which records are illegitimate. The overall breach in the integrity of sports may cause doubts on any major athletic feats over the next few years. As it is too late to know if any of these athletes actually cheated, all we can do is presume their innocence and cheer them on to go above and beyond the current limits of mankind.