Drug cheating, commonly referred to as doping, is the use of banned substances to give athletes an unfair performance advantage. Doping is sometimes carried out by individual athletes, but often occurs with the complicity of team coaches and medical staff. Many performance-enhancing drugs have the potential to cause long-term health problems.
Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ), which before 2006 was called the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency (NZSDA), works to prevent doping. DFSNZ bases its testing on an annual list of banned substances produced by the international body the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Dave Gerrard, who retired in 2010 from seven years as chair of NZSDA, was also a member of the WADA Medical Committee. Wellington sports lawyer David Howman was director-general of WADA from 2003 to 2016.
The main classes of doping drugs are:
- stimulants such as ephedrine, amphetamines and caffeine
- narcotic analgesics – painkilling drugs including opiates such as heroin and morphine
- anabolic steroids derived from the hormone testosterone, which are used to increase muscle size and strength
- peptides – synthetic hormones including human growth hormone (hGH), which promotes energy release, and erythropoietin (EPO), which improves oxygen absorption by increasing red blood cell production
- diuretics, which stimulate bodily fluid loss and are used for weight loss and as masking agents to hide steroid use.
While detection methods exist for many drugs, peptides are difficult to detect as they match naturally occurring hormones. Drug detection agencies are involved in a continual struggle to develop new methods of detection as new drugs are devised.
Drug testing in New Zealand
In New Zealand DFSNZ is responsible for drug testing of athletes. DFSNZ can test any registered athletes in sports complying with the World Anti-Doping Code. National sporting organisations work with the DFSNZ to create a registered testing pool (RTP) of designated athletes from a range of codes. The athletes in the RTP make themselves available for random drug testing. Testing may occur directly after an event or on a random occasion out of competition. Urine or blood samples are taken from athletes to be tested for prohibited substances. If an athlete tests positive the case is taken to the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand, which decides whether there has been a violation and what penalty will be imposed. Penalties normally consist of a period of suspension from competition.
Athletes need to be aware of what medications they are taking for any health problems. Some medications may contain prohibited substances and require a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). Supplements can also be problematic as they can contain prohibited substances. DFSNZ operates an online service for checking the contents of medications and supplements.
Paying the price for drug cheats
The New Zealand Cycle Classic (NZCC) has to comply with tightened doping controls brought in by cycling’s international body, the International Cycling Union, in the wake of the doping scandal involving US cyclist Lance Armstrong. With stricter drug testing costing around $30,000 for each event, 2013 race organisers decided to cancel the Women’s Tour of New Zealand that traditionally followed on from the NZCC. The new testing standards made it too expensive to hold both races.
Drug cheating in New Zealand
In the period from 2002 to 2010 less than 1% of the athletes tested by DFSNZ showed indications of using prohibited drugs. American and Australian tests over the same period found a similar rate.
The athletes whose cases came before the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand from 2004 to 2012 were from a range of sports including rugby league, cycling, bodybuilding, athletics, powerlifting, boxing, basketball and wrestling. About 60% of the cases that came before the tribunal were for the use of recreational drugs, with the remainder mostly for using performance-enhancing substances.