Prohibited Substances (Competition Bans)

Athletes have employed different substances throughout the history of sport to improve performance. Doping is the term universally understood to describe the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes. While certain doping practices were first seen as more unsportsmanlike than illegal, the ingestion of performance-enhancing drugs or dietary supplements was not a significant part of the science of sport until the 1950s, when anabolic steroids were

Preseason strength training is imperative.
first determined to provide significant benefits to strength athletes.

In 1963, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) first prohibited the use of a wide range of substances in Olympic competition. It took approximately 30 years for the combination of scientifically indisputable testing methodology and global support in the athletic community for comprehensive legislative anti-doping frameworks to be erected. This convergence led to the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has fostered a unified approach to the battle against the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances in athletic competition. WADA is the supervisory organization that develops and enacts the regulations to be followed in the administration of its anti-doping practices. Every significant world sporting organization and international sports federation is a member of WADA. Virtually every nation in the world has its own national anti-doping agency with membership in WADA, of which the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is an example. A key objective of the WADA anti-doping initiatives is the harmonization of global approaches to doping detection and sanctions.

A cornerstone of the WADA based approach is its Anti-Doping Code, which sets out the Prohibited List, the precise summary of all prohibited substances, updated on an annual basis. The Prohibited List is well publicized in the international athletic world to ensure that all athletes know precisely what substances will be the subject of doping tests, both in competition as well as through out-of-competition testing. A prohibited substance is a broader concept than that of a prohibited drug, although in sport the two expressions are often used interchangeably. A drug is any substance that is not a food that produces or induces a change in the body; a substance is any element, compound, or mixture. WADA expresses in its Code the underlying philosophy to the prohibition as "The use of any drug should be limited to medically justified indications."

The broader expression "substance," as opposed to the narrower term "drug," is illustrated by the prohibition against the use of erythropoietin (EPO), the hormone that stimulates erythrocyte (red blood cell) production and aids in the better transportation of oxygen in the body. EPO is a naturally occurring substance, but it is the method in which this substance is employed by athletes that leads to the prohibition.

Generally, all governing bodies in sport have enacted their own specific rules regarding the consequences for a violation of the prohibited substances rules. A competition ban, also known as a suspension, is a specific penalty imposed on the athlete as a consequence of a positive test for a prohibited substance. The length of the ban will depend on a number of factors, some of which tend to mitigate the penalty, others of which may be perceived as an aggravating circumstance. Those factors include:

  • Evidence that the prohibited substance may have been ingested on an innocent basis, such as a contaminated supplement.
  • Evidence that the athlete took the prohibited substance at the direction of a coach or trainer while being provided assurances of the legality of the substance.
  • When the athlete is a first-time violator of the substance rule.
  • When the athlete is a previous offender.
  • When the athlete has been deemed to have failed the doping test because the athlete failed or refused to attend for an out-of-competition test.

Professional sports leagues generally enforce their respective prohibited substance policies within the framework of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with a players association. Such CBAs uniformly provide for appeals of any decision respecting a suspension from play. Professional sport substance testing will often extend to substances generally regarded as recreational drugs, such as marijuana and alcohol, drugs with limited athletic performance applications.

Professional sports have become much more sensitive to its collective public image in relation to the enforcement of all rules regarding prohibited substances. In the United States, a notable example was the Congressional hearings convened in 2004 regarding the use of performance-enhancing substances in major league baseball. One of the players who testified before the Congressional committee, Rafael Palmeiro, vehemently denied his personal involvement in any steroid use in the course of a successful playing career; Palmeiro later tested positive for the substance and was subject to both a competition ban and broad public scorn. Major league baseball enacted its own rules regarding prohibited substances in 2005, banning not only steroids and similar substances, but also the stimulant amphetamine, whose use had been an accepted part of professional baseball culture for decades.

SEE ALSO Blood doping; Doping tests; Out-of-competition testing; Stimulants; World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).