Major Doping Scandals that Rocked the World of Sport
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Major Doping Scandals that Rocked the World of Sport

Lance Armstrong, numerous MLB baseball players, the whole Russian Olympic team - the desire to make it to the top can push athletes to make bad decisions.

There have been a number of our sporting heroes, who have ended up at the center of doping scandals. One of the more recent cases of this is the Russian doping scandal, which involved doping on an almost industrial level, resulting in Russian nationals being forced to compete as neutral athletes.

To give you a timeline of scandals that have stirred things up, we put together a list of some of the biggest names in sport that were involved in doping scandals throughout the years.

Mark Weaden
Mark Weaden Thu 21/11/2019 - 06:48 EST

What constitutes a doping scandal?

In competitive sport, doping is the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletic competitors. The term doping is widely used by most sports regulatory bodies, which carry out random and mandatory drug tests to uncover the efforts of athletes to deceive the various drugs commissions.

Doping is commonly associated with Olympic sports, combat sports, cycling and other types of high-endurance sports.

However, it has spread and is present in numerous different types of sports today, potentially even infecting our favourite mainstream sports.

russian doping

The Russian Olympic team was accused of doping

Spectacular scandals

There is broad speculation about how modern-day sport may be littered with doping scandals, even mainstream sports such as football. It’s extremely difficult to regulate, as the ways in which athletes can dope is constantly changing and evolving.

May 4, 1968 - First Horse Disqualified from Kentucky Derby for Banned Substance

The Kentucky Derby is often pegged as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, and over the years we’ve seen some marvellous races. But the event isn’t without scandal, as we’ve seen a few Kentucky winners banned and stripped of their titles’ throughout the years.

The story of Dancer’s Image is a sad one, as he was the first horse to be disqualified for a banned substance in the derby. Traces of phenylbutazone were discovered, resulting in second-place finisher Forward Pace being given the title.

The story was front-page news across North America, even making it to the cover of Sports Illustrated; naming it “the year’s major sports story”.

Hans Gunnar Liljenwall

Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall in the 1968 Olympics

October, 1968 - First Olympic Athlete Disqualified for Doping Violation

Given the nature of doping, it’s not without its faults and it’s own scandals. Going way back to the 1968 Olympics, Swedish modern pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall acted in such a way which caused his country to be disqualified from the Olympics.

Liljenwall reportedly had “two beers” to calm his nerves before the pistol shooting event. Many would argue alcohol would only inhibit athletic performance, but the decision stood. Although this isn’t a clear case of doping to enhance performance, it is, nonetheless, breaking the rules.

Due to the importance of such an event, word travelled fast and the news quickly became the newspaper headlines across the globe - just for a couple of beers!

September 27, 1988 - Ben Johnson Stripped of Gold Medal after Positive Drug Test

The Canadian Ben Johnson up against Carl Lewis of America was how the event was sold, but the headlines weren’t interested in running. The event was considered to be one of the most important men’s 100m final in the history of the Olympic games, but it soon became one of the most notorious races of all time.

On that famous day in Seoul, Johnson set a world record and Canada were elated with the result. But later, Johnson gave a positive doping sample.

Johnson’s disqualification shocked the world.

Johnson maintains he wasn’t taking steroids to this day, but he did admit to taking them for 8 years before. Interestingly, it was likely many more athletes were doping, but Ben was the accused and disgraced back in 1988.

ben johnson

Ben Johnson stunned the world in 1988

September 1, 2000 - BALCO case and Marion Jones

Marion Louis Jones was a true athlete, a world champion track and field competitor and former professional basketball player. She saw success at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, winning three gold medals and two bronze medals.

She was stripped of some of her titles for steroid use, but did retain 3 of them.

There were 20 top level athletes associated with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) scandal, which involved the supply of steroids to athletes.

It’s a unique case within doping scandals because it would appear that BALCO was to blame, more so than the actual athletes themselves, who appear to be victims.

October 16, 2008 - First Doping Suspensions in History of Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer was first introduced in 1996, it has since come along leaps and bounds. The first suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs were first handed out nine years after the league began testing.

Two players, Jon Conway and Jeff Parke, received a 10-game ban after testing positive. The drugs got into the players’ systems after they took an over-the-counter nutritional supplement from a vitamin store. Both players were fined as a result of the findings, though it does appear in this case it wasn’t intentional abuse.

December 2, 2008 - Six NFL Players Suspended for Taking Steroid Masking Agent

Back in 2018, six players, three of which made up the spine of the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line, were banned for doping violations. All six were punished for using a drug known as a diuretic, which can serve as a masking agent for steroids.

The NFL didn’t disclose too much information regarding the ban, which was labelled as suspicious by a number of sports writers and commentators at the time. The lack of transparency further fuels the claim that the vast majority of athletes in mainstream sports are using performance-enhancing drugs.

February 7, 2009 - Alex Rodriguez Reportedly Tested Positive for Steroids in 2003

The New York Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez, or A-rod, who was once the highest paid player in baseball, was found to have taken an illegal substance during his recovery in 2003. He didn’t admit to it until almost 6 years later, in 2009. But during the Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez was found to have obtained illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

The outcome of the investigation saw Roriguez banned for a total of 211 games, covering the entirety of the season. From the types of bans seem so far, this was definitely the most blatant abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and It stands as one of the major doping-scandals in MLB history.

Alex Rodriguez 2003

Alex Rodriguez in action for the Texas Rangers' team

February 24, 2004 - Dwain Chambers Banned from Olympics

British sprinter Dwain Chambers was banned for life from the Olympics for testing positive for the designer drug THG in a landmark case. After receiving the ban, Chambers was lost for an avenue to go down, failing attempts to get involved in other sports, such as the NFL.

But, his lifetime ban wasn’t upheld and he made a brief return to the track in 2005.

He was the first athlete to be banned for THG, though the scandal was linked to some individuals working at BALCO. Soon after Chambers received his ban, four Americans also tested positive for THG.

August 24, 2012 - Lance Armstrong, the King of cheating

Lance Armstrong became a household name worldwide between the years of 1997 and 2015, but not for all the right reasons. Armstrong was known as the cyclist who overcame cancer and pioneered athletes fight against cancer across a variety of sports.

He won an astonishing 6 consecutive Tour-de-France titles before retiring. However, around 2010, six years after he won his sixth title, a case was opened against him accusing him of doping.

After a lengthy back-and-forth with regulatory bodies, governing bodies and the media, Armstrong conceded and accepted his charges. He even went on the Oprah Winfrey show confessing and apologising for his actions.

November 7, 2016 - Jon Jones Multiple Doping Scandals In the UFC

Jon Jones is a name synonymous with the UFC and a fan favourite for many UFC fans. Between 2015 and 2017, Jones was involved in several controversies and lost his title a staggering three times as a result of his actions.

He first lost his title in 2016 prior to his scheduled title fight against Daniel Cormier at UFC 200. He was then in-and-out of the fight game for a number of years.

He became eligible to fight again in 2018, and was scheduled to fight at UFC 232. However, after inconsistencies arose with his drug test and wasn’t able to fight in Vegas. For arguably one of the greatest fighters ever to grace the sport, this was a shocking discovery.

doping today

doping today is still a reality

Do we still see this kind of thing happening today?

You don’t have to look far to find a doping scandal these days. This year saw Nikes’ CEO Mark Parker involved in a doping scandal, which has resonated among some shoppers and investors and caused the company all kinds of issues.

From the recent Russia Olympic team scandal, to the ever-present suspicion of doubt over riders legitimacy to ride in the Tour-de-France, doping seems to be everywhere in sport.