Leading up to this year’s Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, controversy ran amok and speculation was rife when it emerged that high profile athletes of many sports and disciplines were suspects of doping. In the wake of such rumours, many Russian athletes were confirmed by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) as the guilty parties in such cases of doping, and the use of performance enhancing drugs in many sports including, but not exclusive to, weightlifting and athletics.
Under the spotlight they have fallen once again after a group of cyber vigilantes known as the Fancy Bears hacked the private files of WADA and published findings which they believe implicate several American Olympic athletes in their own doping scandal.
The medical files of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and gymnastics gold-medallist Simone Biles went public on Tuesday, along with basketball player Elena Delle Donne, and a statement from the Bears which read “We are going to tell you how Olympics medals are won. We hacked World Anti-Doping Agencies databases and were shocked with what we saw. We will start with the U.S which has disgraced its named with tainted victories. We will also disclose exclusive information about other national Olympic teams later”
Both the U.S Gymnast Organisation and Biles herself have released statements emphasically denying any wrongdoing. Biles – who takes Ritalin to combat ADHD – took to Twitter to emphasise her integrity and desire for a level playing within the sport she competes.
Why did this happen?
In March 2016, Maria Sharapova stepped forward and admitted taking meldonium, a drug commonly used to increase blood flow in cases where the patient has experience of angina or heart trouble. In the world of sport, it is not approved by the FDA (Federal Drug Agency) nor is it legal to take as part of professional sport. It was the first big case this year which ignited a greater search into Russian athletes drug activities in sport.
There is a belief that the Fancy Bears published these findings in order to expose non-Russian athletes as drug cheats, implicating them in scandals that may somehow lead to further investigations. Some see it as a revenge ploy against WADA and their recently published McLaren Report, which ruled that there was substantial evidence to suggest that the Russian Ministry of Sport, the Federal Security Services and the WADA-accredited drug lab in Moscow aided and abetted its athletes in covering up their doping guilt.
The McLaren report, which was published on 18th July 2016, was compiled from extensive research of urine samples, computer hard drives, paperwork, and athlete data, and its findings were so damning to the athletes it paid focus to, that the International Committee for the Olympics and the Paralympics moved to begin suspension proceedings on many of its Russian competitors.
Evidently, the cyber group who opened this smear attempt at the American athletes hold a belief that the doping extends to further than Russia. Yet it must a,so be noted these medical records were conceived in 2014, and May not be the case for the athletes today. What their allegations lead may be followed up by WADA, which – at this moment – appears to have been emphatically stamped out by various American sporting authorities. But it begs the question as to why these athletes have taken the drugs they have, and where the line can be drawn between “banned outright” and “banned, but acceptable”; a line which the Fancy Bears obviously believe to be blurred.
The Athletes in Question
Serena Williams – tennis: her medical report indicates she takes prednisolone, which acts as a suppression of inflammatory and allergic disorders including, but not exclusive to, bowel disease, asthma and rheumatic disease. further to this, Williams is also noted to have taken oxycodone, which is a drug similar to morphine, designed to alleviate pain of moderate to severe levels.
Venus Williams – tennis: the elder Williams sister’s medical records show she takes drugs that combat allergic reactions and asthsma; triamcinolone and prednisone.
Simone Biles – gymnastics, openly admitted to taking prescribed Ritalin tablets to combat ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), and emphasised that she followed procedure over the course of taking the medication.
What happens now?
In the wake of such a leakage, most athletes may now be concerned about their own private affairs being displayed for public viewing. Whether they have done anything wrong is another matter, but what it will undoubtedly do is raise further concerns about the use of banned substances in sport, either tagged as TUE (therapeutic use exemption) or not, and where the line is drawn.