Taking them hurts reputations and can cause long-term health risks. Is it really worth it?
Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) provide professional athletes a temptation to go against league rules and improve their game rapidly. Every year there are stories about professional athletes getting busted for taking a drug, which brings their game to the next level. In most professional leagues, the individual is suspended for an extended period of time without pay, and carries that reputation for the rest of their lives.
As for Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA), the use of PEDs is not as common as it is professional sports.
Executive director of the OCAA, Blair Webster, says it doesn’t make sense for student athletes to take them because the chance of getting to a professional level is slim.
“What’s the rationale for doing it?” said Webster. “We have never produced an athlete that goes to the NBA.”
In the OCAA, there has never been a situation with an athlete or team taking PEDs during Webster’s term as executive director.
Before student athletes play for their respective teams, the athletes must complete an online module that gives them the proper education of PEDs, and what substances are banned in the OUA and OCAA.
All schools are responsible to conduct a drug education seminar so the athletes understand the health risks and potential repercussions for taking PEDs.
Once the athletes complete the online education before the beginning of the season, there are automatically under the anti-doping policy of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
This gives WADA the ability to test athletes at any time during the season.
The athletes can be tested anytime by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES). “They can test preseason, they can test unannounced, and they can test announced,” said Ken Babcock, athletic director at Durham College.
WADA has the responsibility of organizing all random testing schedule dates, and Babcock says the lack of testing during the regular season is concerning.
“If student-athletes believe that there will be no testing unless you go to a national championship, there are chances and windows of thought that crosses are student athlete that wants to take advantage of that,” he said.
Varsity athletic therapy at Durham College and UOIT is responsible to conduct the tests for WADA. Athletes are required to give a urine sample, and the schools are only notified if the tests come back positive.
The other method of testing can be done upon anonymous request, but Babcock says all athletic directors only use this method if warranted.
“The athletic directors around the table treat that seriously and would only do that if there was a substantiated effort to understand if someone was doping,” said Babcock.
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport is responsible for the disciplinary action towards the guilty party.
“There is a ban from play for that student athlete, right away,” said Scott Barker, manager of intercollegiate athletics at UOIT.
Babcock says the suspension length is usually four years for a guilty athlete.
“Most of the time if you’re found, that’s it,” he said.
The student athlete’s eligibility to play is the only thing affected, as they are still allowed to attend classes.
According to the prohibited list provided by WADA anything that falls under the anabolic agent, Beta-2 agonists, peptide hormones, hormone and metabolic modulators, and diuretics and other masking agents categories are prohibited. The use of recreational drugs is not only illegal, but also prohibited for student athletes to use.
Athletic therapist at Durham College and UOIT, Saul Behrman says student athletes are exposed to supplements that are not regulated.
“The biggest issue with the supplements is that it’s not regulated,” he said. “We try to guide them to the ones that are more trusted.”
The athletic therapy department recommends athletes to take supplements with a National Sanitation Foundations (NSF) label because products with the label do not have any banned substances in them.
“The industry as a whole is not well regulated so we warn athletes to be careful even with those that are labeled,” said Behrman.
Even with all the drugs out there available to the student athletes, Barker says athletes now know more about what they could be potentially putting into their bodies.
“It was a larger problem a couple years ago,” said Barker. “I think with what we’ve seen with professional sports, the education that’s gone on, the awareness programs that are now in place, and the knowledge people now have about the harm they do to your body, I think we’re seeing a change in the other direction where students, student athletes and even coaches are aware of what’s out there.”
Taking PEDs is considered unethical in the world of sport, and when an athlete tests positive, the first thing that comes to mind for Barker is the condition of the student athlete.
“You’re most concerned about the health and well-being of the student athlete,” said Barker.
There are instances in professional sports when athletes consume banned substances without any knowledge, and Babcock is concerned about this when it comes to the athletes at Durham and UOIT.
“My biggest concern is the unknown and the overwhelming trend of people trying to get a boost through whatever they can put in a milkshake,” said Babcock. “The problem is most of those things are not governed by any type of agency that determines all of the ingredients in those products.”
There are tremendous health risks that come with taking PEDs, most of them long-term. There are minor risks that can cause dizziness, dehydration and muscle cramps, and there are also long-term risks that can damage the liver and kidneys.
“That’s our biggest concern, is that the athletes just don’t know,” said Babcock. “What we have is athletes can go and talk to our therapists and ask questions.”
All athletes at Durham College and UOIT are advised to visit the varsity athletic therapy if there are any concerns about a specific product or medication they are currently taking.
PEDs are something sports have to deal with every year, and it’s the athlete’s decision if they want to play drug-free, or risk the chance of being banned for an extended period of time.
“To compete, they must stay clean,” said Babcock.