Drugs oil the engine of sport and a war to eradicate them is unwinnable because sporting culture encourages their use, a Victoria University (VU) expert said today.
Associate Professor Bob Stewart said there were now five international studies showing the level of recreational and performance-enhancing drug use among athletes was much higher than for non-athletes. One study of US college athletes found that 40-70 per cent binge drink, 24-30 per cent use cannabis and 10-20 per cent use other illicit drugs.
"It's a contradiction to say we're winning the way on drugs in sport when we know athletes use more licit and illicit drugs than non-athletes. As long as it stays a professional career and elite sport demands so much of its athletes, people will always look for that edge to increase performance.
"Drugs in sport have always existed and it is pure fantasy to think that sport can be engineered to guarantee a drug-free environment,'' Associate Professor Bob Stewart said. "This is because sport, particularly at the elite level, is in fact the ideal ground for the propagation of drug use.''
The VU School of Sport and Exercise Science Associate Professor said sport attracted "obsessive compulsives", rewarded risky behaviour, produced stress that required release and relief, demanded quick recovery from injury and encouraged players and athletes to do all it takes to secure a competitive edge.
"Its social dimension works best when appropriate pharmaceutical lubricants and mood altering substances are freely available. I can't think of a factor that would be strong enough to push drugs out of sport. It can't be turned around.''
Another barrier to stamping drugs from sport was the "enormous political and economic clout'' of the pharmaceutical industry.
"The pharmaceutical industry not only invents and supplies most of the substances that players use to better manage their sports experiences, but they also have a vested interest in broadening and deepening the markets for their products,'' he said.
"It does this through sophisticated and very costly public relations and promotional selling strategies, and direct marketing to GPs who then prescribe to patients and end users. You rarely see the big pharmaceutical companies joining up to the 'war on drugs' army.''
Associate Professor Stewart said there was too much uninformed analyses on the use of drugs in sport and called for more thorough research to be conducted on the issue.
For interview: Bob Stewart, Victoria University, on 9919 4350 or 0407 564 471
Jim Buckell, A/Senior Media Officer,
VU Marketing and Communications Department
Ph: 9919 4243 or 0400 465 459