Nicole Cooke showed the courage only a few from the sports arena has, to talk about lax doping report response and prevalent institutional sexism by British Cycling. In the parliament, she cited the response she got from the UK anti doping authorities when she reported her Italian team manager who asked her to take PEDs or performance enhancing drugs. Cooked said, “they (authorities) would not do anything with my evidence”. It was only after the intervention of the Italian police, that her directeur sportif William Dazzani was arrested.
Explaining her ordeal in the whole case, according to Cooke-“the measures and schemes to fight the abuse of PEDs are inadequate and ineffective – [it’s] the wrong people fighting the wrong war, in the wrong way, with the wrong tools”.
This revelation by Cooke sheds light on presence of inadequate doping tests in other sports as well. The English rugby union tests its players for doping every year. What seems to be good news on the surface is these tests reveal only a fraction of players, 4 out of 1001 tests last season, that too from the bottom of the list test positive. Does that mean Rugby Football Union’s report suggests that there is no problem of steroid use at the elite level in sport? Well not really. Speaking on the same a senior figure from RFU told the Guardian, “The testing is nowhere near comprehensive enough to make a statement that rugby is clean. It’s more a confession of inadequate testing than one of no doping.”
According to him, elite players should undergo doping tests four times a year (twice in preparation phase and twice in-season). Contrary to that in the past 9 months only 405 tests are conducted on 12 Premiership teams with at least 30 players in each. That totals to only 45 months a month. The severity of steroids use is present at all levels, according to some players like Daniel Spencer-Tonks.
Daniel was banned due to steroids use. He claims, “Doping is hugely widespread at all levels” and in particular the young players entering the sport feel “pressure to be bigger, faster and stronger”.
In a way it’s the performance intensive sports that sometime drives players to the edge of taking steroids. Richard Ings, former head, Australian anti-doping agency tells the Guardian that rugby union and league are “high-risk sports for the use of PEDs because of the benefits they provide to strength, power and stamina”. He adds, “Don’t forget that rugby is a sport where injuries are often prolific among players and PEDs are exceptional at keeping otherwise injured players on the park in breach of the rules”.
This is true not only for rugby but to any other sport. It’s on sporting authorities to be more open to risky anti-doping programs as present methods often show no positive results but history has different opinion as lack of positive tests had not always meant lack of potential positives.
The anti-doping tests that are conducted at present are also not extensive enough to test other performance enhancing substances than steroids. Speaking on the highly positive doping test results by RFU, Ings quotes-“But how many were there for HGH? Or peptides? Or EPO? How many blood tests were there specifically to test prohibitive substances? Sure, such tests won’t catch all the cheats. But you can guarantee that you won’t catch anyone at all if you put in place weak testing.”
People like Nicole Cooke are essential for keeping sports clean and so is the better intelligence for the investigative agencies. But given the fact how Cooke was ignored during her career, I doubt many will have the courage to stand against doping.