Is Doping a Problem in Golf?

Is Doping a Problem in Golf?

Written by therock67
Monday, 23 July 2007

Gary Player found himself in the headlines last week after declaring that he felt there is a doping problem in golf. Naturally he found himself on the wrong side of the debate as far as today’s professionals are concerned who clambered over eachother in the rush to the microphones to deny there was any such problem. That has always been the case with whistleblowers in sport. Paul Kimmage was not a popular man in France after his book A Rough Ride exposed the widespread abuse of steroids in cycling in the 1980s. Gary Player’s comments were not greeted with quite the same vitriol but he was not a popular man on tour last week anyway.

Player made two claims. Firstly, that there are at least ten players on major golf tours abusing steroids. Secondly, he knows one of these personally who confessed that fact to him. “One guy told me – and I took an oath prior to him telling me – but he told me what he did and I could see this massive change in him,” Player said. “And somebody else told me something I also promised I wouldn’t tell, that verified others had done it.” Such an oath obviously isn’t good enough for Rod Pampling who challenged Player to name the guilty party: “If he’s definite, he should name the people. I don’t think anyone should stand up and say definitely people are using drugs and then not name them. I think you have to name the people if you want to make a statement and make it a worthy statement.” Retief Goosen agreed, wondering aloud, “If he wants to come and make these comments, why doesn’t he name them?” Player is obviously not going to name those involved so the pleas of Pampling and Goosen are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Goosen had other, more interesting points though. He queried Player’s motives in highlighting the problem. “I don’t know what Gary was trying to prove. I am very shocked at his comments. I don’t know why he said that. I don’t know if he is trying to damage the sport,” speculated Goosen. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Goosen that Player might be trying to do the very opposite by bringing these opinions into the open. They may sit uneasy with some people but surely there’s little harm in bringing in testing procedutes?

Jack Nicklaus disagrees. He’s defending the sport from a more old-fashioned moralistic angle. “Guys have always called penalties on themselves, he said They have always governed themselves. Cheating provides a very shallow victory and guys who cheat are only cheating themselves. Some other sports, like cycling, can be a little shallow, but golf has never been like that. Its a shame if the governing bodies feel they have to introduce testing. Lets hope they find the game is clean and they can stop the testing very quickly.”

Essentially there are two arguments being advanced by those who seek to defend the good name of golf from Gary Player:

  1. There is no problem with doping in sport, so there’s no need to test for steroids.

  2. Steroids do not present players with any real advantage in golf so they would be a pointless exercise.

The first point is obviously nonsense. Back in the height of the Mad Cow Disease scare in Europe the Argentinians boasted of a zero per cent BSE infection rate in their prime quality beef. The problem is they weren’t testing for it. One would think that sports like golf who are so assured of their integrity and lack of steroid abuse would be all too willing to subscribe to all World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) initiatives if they’re so confident of no problem existing. Why hide from good news?

And of course the other minor problem with the first statement is that where testing has taken place, it doesn’t support the view that there is no doping in golf. The WADA Analytical Findings for 2006 found a 2.67% adverse findings rate for tests in golf (11 from 412 tests), which is well above the average for IOC sports. That is regrettably a small sample size, and perhaps many of the positive tests were for recreational drugs, but it certainly does not conclude that no problem exists. Similarly the French government have been testing their young athletes for years (they also performed the first drugs tests on professional golf, despite a lack of co-operation from the European Tour). Between 2000 and 2005 they found 12 postitive test from a sample size of 100 golfers. In the United States the NCAA recorded a 1.3% steroid detection rate and 3.5% for amphetamines. Golf is not squeaky clean.

Others will argue, and have argued, that steroids provide no beneficial effect for golfers. Baseball fans thought the same thing until they discovered their sport was rife with steroid abuse. If it helps you hit it further, it will be of benefit. Dr Gary Wadler, a member of WADA, suggests the following benefits may be availed of by golfers: “What comes to mind are anabolic steroids and beta blockers,” he said. “One provides an advantage at one end of the game, one at the other. The stronger you are, the more acceleration you bring to the swing and the farther you hit the ball. At the other end of the spectrum, beta blockers can help with tremors, or to relax, or even slow the heart rate sufficiently so you can putt between heartbeats just like archers train themselves to release the arrow.”

Steroid abuse may not be widespread in golf but in order to assure the public that they’re watching a clean sport, the onus in on the administrators to implement an anti-doping policy and a rigorous testing regime immediately. All sports must be held accountable to the same high standards. Cycling is thoroughly, and rightly, lambasted for its past tolerance of doping. The culture of omerta destroyed the reputation of the sport and most articles on the sport openly quesion the validity and integrity of results. And yet that is a sport which has implemented the most progressive and exhaustive anti-doping programmes of all. Golf meanwhile does nothing and hopes the problem will go away.