The use of performance-enhancing substances, also referred to as “doping,” not only gives sports a bad name, but it also doesn’t seem to deliver on its promise of boosting athletic performance, researchers reported in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise.
“The effects of doping in modern sports are far and widespread, encompassing not only the athletes and sporting teams involved, but also sponsors and fans,” lead author Aaron Hermann, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a press release.
To determine the effects of this widespread use of performance-enhancing substances, Hermann and colleagues evaluated sporting records, including Olympic and world records, of male and female athletes from 1886 to 2012.
“This research looked at 26 of the most controlled and some of the most popular sports, including various track and field events like 100m sprints, hurdles, high jump, long jump and shot-put, as well as some winter sports like speed skating and ski jumping,” Hermann said.
The researchers then compared records from before 1932 — when steroids became available — and after. They also repeated their analyses using 1967, which is when widespread use of doping was formally acknowledged.
In the post-steroids eras, times, distances and other results did not improve, as predicted by extrapolation of pre-doping year results. The average best life records for doped top athletes also were not significantly different when compared with those who were considered not to have doped.
Further, doping also did not appear to improve sports records even after assuming that not all cases of doping were discovered, according to the data.
The study findings show the negative impact of doping on sports, but they also suggest doping is more widespread than initially believed, according to Hermann.
“The 2000 Olympics gold medal result for the women’s 100-meter sprint was even poorer than the gold medal obtained in the 1968 Olympics, the first year of doping testing in the Olympics,” Hermann said.
“This research demonstrates that doping practices are not improving results and in fact, may be harming them — seemingly indicating that ‘natural’ human abilities would outperform the potentially doping ‘enhanced’ athletes — and that in some sports, doping may be highly prevalent,” he added.
As a result of their findings, Hermann said he hopes that these data will alter athletes’ perception of the use of performance-enhancing substances.
“In many sports, there are perceptions that an athlete needs to dope in order to remain competitive, and I hope these findings will confront those ill-informed views, and help stamp out doping in sport,” he said.