Are performance-enhancing supplements indispensable in sports nowadays?

[1] The Olympics – an ancient competition that shows the true colours of top athletes – do or can we still retain that? 

Once upon a time, there was a moment when the best male athletes of each ancient Greek city-state would compete for glory, and worship the Gods. You earned respect through your talent and hard-work. You stepped out on the podium bare naked, nothing but your body to steer or force your way to victory depending on your sport. Keeping in mind that the feminist role in sports has come a long way, is it all but different nowadays with the availability of sports-enhancing drugs and technology? Are these elements indispensable in the modern game to improve oneself? I hope to direct my article in discussing and investigating the evolution of sport – from the Olympic times to the contemporary age, the importance of technology and sports-enhancing drugs and the type of sports that impose severe regulations on those testing positive. Constructive comments are more than welcome below!


Background and evolution of the Olympic Games 

It is generally believed that the Olympic Games has started as early as 776 B.C., but eventually banned by Emperor Theodosius under harsh Roman rule. [2] Within these sport competitions, this was to showcase the physical qualities of the Greek citizen – in your typical survival of the fittest style. Moreover, by bringing many young contingents from around the Greek ‘nation’, this was to improve and encourage agreeable relations amongst city-states. The Hellanditus or referee, would be the judge of each sport, awarding each of the winners a palm branch in their hands and an olive branch crown to mark a hardly earned victory. Many red ribbons and flowers were thrown to the winners by the spectators, in order to show their appreciation of these ancient athletes. [2]


Importance of sports-enhancing drugs

Since the ancient times, many stimulants and special ingredients like wine and mushrooms, have been used so that each athlete had an advantage over others in their respective competition. According to the Olympic guidelines, it is advisory that all competitors take part, rather than winning. Many athletes nowadays are fully professional, moulding their art day in, day out, being role-models to the children watching at home. [3] Take nothing away from any athletes, they have battled throughout their lives to reach the very top of the mountain, but the doping sagas are merely a game of ‘catch me if you can‘, between the athletes and the anti-doping agencies across the whole spectrum of sports. Obviously, it begs to be asked whether it is relevant that the Olympic board keep making smaller limits to how much athletes can intake, or do we let it go because we want to watch the event for its enticing factor, as a spectator sport? Surely we need to meditate what is our priority – the art of participation or spectating in general, because this would turn out to be an endless and painful cycle.


Let us take the sprinting and cycling as the main examples. On the athletics track, you are bound to see many runners, but which one can we distinguish amongst all of them of whom are clean or not? Recently, from modern times to now, Canada’s Ben Johnson, Britain’s Dwain Chambers, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, America’s Tyson Gay and many more have broken countless records. [3] The idea of sprinting approximately 100 metres in less than 10 seconds is one that has been a dream amongst the world’s population. That is approximately 10 steps every tenth of a second. Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong are the reputed men to have won the Tour de France the most times – and getting their titles stripped because of the strict regulations imposed by the Olympic executive body and International Cycling Union (ICU). Hold on a minute. How does a person, let alone a cyclist manage to climb mountains and maintain speed for 150 to 200 kilometres? How about the high and low altitudes that riders need to get accustomed to, don’t their blood levels need to be tweaked in such a way to pass these gruelling episodes? In the US alone, it is researched that $1.4 billion US dollars has been injected to create more and more compounds and solutions are on our shelves. [3] The problem of sports-enhancement has grown from professional athletes to health clubs, with people using it to improve their aesthetics one way or another. True, the media does promote the idea of a slim and cut beauty look to males and females in our society, but is it truly necessary? Moreover and personally, it is superhuman to be able to break these records and trials, without the use of some sort of enhancement product. And until this is understood, sports-enhancement is truly indispensable nowadays.


Importance of technology 

Video technology is definitely one that comes under this heading. According to Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup winning coach of England in 2003 and the current British Olympics Association (BOA) administrator, highlights the importance of how athletes must think about what to do with the information they compile. [4] Take for example, football and boxing as examples, where national teams and clubs or boxers themselves, study their counterparts’ styles and take an upper-hand, ultimately outfoxing their opponents before even entering the ring. This is key, as this is an example of how sports-enhancing supplements are not completely indispensable nowadays, but is it sufficient enough to conclude here?


Apart from observing your opponents, it can certainly improve one’s personal performance as well. Take swimming as an example, where the shark’s skin was used by the celebrity swimmers Michael Phelps and Alain Bernard. As time in the 21st century progresses, many scientists have found ways to improve our performance. However, with all these limitations and regulations that purists and fundamentalists are trying to impose – we are going back to the basics. How far can we allow these things to happen? Equally, when can we make these exceptions?


What next for sports in general?

I am using this section as more of a conclusion or area for deep thinking for you, the reader. In my own perspective, I believe that sports-enhancing supplements are definitely indispensable. Certainly, purists and fundamentalists would tell me that even with a lot of sports-enhancing drugs, athletes must work as hard. Indeed, the use of video technology is definitely an option to take an advantage, but to what extent does this lead top athletes to? Should we not embrace the development of technology to improve the main component in our sport?


After all, it is the performance that matters as well, and with increasing demand for great fitness, this hangs in the balance. It isn’t like Popeye just took some spinach and instantly puffed up to save Olivia again. I also wanted to emphasise that a lot of people watch sports, where athletes take the supplements – football, cricket, cycling…regardless of the strict regulations. We need to understand and consider this point profoundly: do we, as a general public continue to watch these sports for our love for them per se and their excitement factor, or sway away from it because of its corrupted athletes? Quite paradoxical, right? Especially when people are inspired to become another great, when a lot of merchandise is generated from these athletes. So, until then, we will never be able to cement our desires and let this burning question bubble loom ever so grey and large… Cheers and till next time! Hope you enjoyed this edition of Speaking Seb! 🙂








How the Euro’s 2012 in Poland and Ukraine is not simply about football…

How the Euro’s 2012 in Poland and Ukraine is not simply about football…


This is my first article, and it is about football, with some elements of history and politics, things I take very close to my heart. With many articles regarding these aforementioned elements, I thought I would have a go myself. Hope you, the reader, enjoy this read, any constructive comments for improvement, much appreciated. 
It is another two years after the World Cup. Another European Championship where the cream of the cream players vie against each other in a heated contest of football. You have your star players in the traditional powerhouses, be it Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, England, Netherlands. The Spanish players came in as favourites with their free-flowing, ‘tiki-taka’, one-touch football that Dutch legend Johann Cruyff had once introduced so greatly in his beloved teams, Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona FC.
We all saw how magnitude of tactics and chance can impact in a football match. Denmark against Netherlands (see link, and Greece against Russia (see link  These matches definitely raised a few eyebrows, when Dick Advocaat’s men had not made it through, especially with a rather efficient, attacking football. Once we had reached the quarter-finals, no one had expected the Czech Republic out of all the traditional powerhouses (see above for reference) to qualify properly. Despite their best efforts, the Czechs were ousted by the fancy, however, at times wasteful Portuguese contingent set of players, only to come to the rescue with their talismanic captain, Cristiano Ronaldo once again.
However, up till this stage, no one had thought much about the politics that entered the game in the Greece against Germany quarter-finals, or simply the manner and way that the Ukrainian women, football fans or Dutch players of African and Caribbean origins were treated, at times disciplined, during the course of the tournament. Quite evidently, this leaves the football tournament being not only a sporting and pride matter, but a political and social one as well. Of course, a wise person would instantly tell us that this was not the sole football competition that inherited political and social elements.
Before we dwell any further in these recent examples, let us look at past instances. There are two examples that highlight these particular concepts, namely the European Championships which saw West Germany being put under the microscope for around more than a month’s duration in the years 1972 held in Belgium and 1988 held in West Germany respectively. The masterclass of the German team comprising of the monumental talents including Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Jupp Heynckes, Herbert Wimmer and many more[1]. They had aided the national team to win and progress far into the finals with a 3-0 drilling of the Soviet Union in 1972, only to be disappointed 16 years later, with an unfortunate 2-1 semi-final defeat by the Dutch team spearheaded by players of the Dutch ‘golden age’ with likes of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit[2]. Football aside, the political elements shall now be considered.

A modern history student or historian simply put, would understand that in the contemporary age and during the years 1949 and 1988, West Germany was still a controlled federation consisting of the predominantly American, British and French trilateral powers under the proposed Potsdam Conference of 1945 amongst others, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990[3][4].  The two modern German regions were contending in a constant struggle of dominance in the sporting world particularly in the Seoul Olympics of 1988. With strenuous efforts of a frequent ‘showcasing’ of the rich and more developed West Germany, with a total population of 65 million people as compared to a lot less significant one of 17 million people, the East Germans dominated the Olympics with a staggering 102 medals in total, ahead of the United States and more importantly beat their West cousins who won a mere 40 medals in comparison [5]. This was significant, as this highlighted how, despite being stages of rapprochement  and a mix of political and economic co-operation between the two controlled states [6], the West Germans were not only vying in footballing terms, there were still some areas of political competition.

With consideration of the past European Championships, it is now important to consider the present one in Poland and Ukraine as co-hosts of the 2012 competition. There have been extreme instances where people have been affected politically, socially and economically, which can be evident in the fighting for Ukrainian women’s rights, the racial discrimination of the Dutch players by Polish fans and the Greece-Germany match itself.

An example of how football is not only a sporting matter, but rather a political one is summed up well here [7]. During the course of the UEFA Championships this year, there has been an ongoing case of encouraging the sex industry in Ukraine, much to the dismay of the local Ukrainian feminist group, Femen [7]. This was significant, because despite the legitimacy of the protest, this shows another social problem being unresolved. Also, with football being dominated by men as a sport, people often forget the opposite gender in their relation to it, which in my personal opinion, poses a huge question to their rights as women.

A very frequent social issue with football that has always troubled players of all races, was racism itself. Recently, the Dutch players, captained by Mark van Bommel, were racially discriminated with monkey chants by the local and Russian fans in their training camp in Krakow [8]. This was significant, because this is not the first time that racism has affected football, especially with a similar, if not worse scenario with Mario Balotelli slammed in Italy for his Ghanian roots [9]. Furthermore, it seems to me that no matter how much the UEFA try to prevent racism in football, it still remains and exists, with it very much unsolved. Fining a set of Football Associations in countries, be it Russia or Poland is not the best solution, particularly since it is perpetual and fans continue to do malicious things in the stands. Thus, this issue really has to be considered properly, if racism is to escape from stadiums and players’ troubles once and for all.

A third, but final and important example is the match between Greece and Germany itself. On one hand, Greece had come in as a respective underdog, surprising fans worldwide with their effective 1-0 defeat of an entertaining Russian team in their qualifications campaign in Group A [10]. On the other hand, Germany came in as favourites, playing with an efficient style of football, winning and qualifying rather comfortably in their respective qualifications campaign in Group B [10]. However, entering the match, a lot of football fans did silently realise that this was more of a political and economic problem between the two teams, particularly with the bankruptcy of Greece and the attempted rehabilitation by one of two strongest European economies apart from France. Greek fans knew that with the austerity or deficit-cutting terms that German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to impose on their country apart from their European counterparts in countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, this could well be their chance of show-casing their talents and their worthiness on footballing and nationalistic terms, in what was dubbed as a “debt derby” by many [11]. This is important, as with this fixture, only to the recent request back the Greeks to have more agreeable economic terms with the European economic giants, add to not only sporting, but political and economic tensions as well, especially with the German government growing increasingly impatient with the Greek state of economy and employment rates, so that it could potentially recover from an enormous debt [11]. (An interesting read to the link 11 provided below in the references).

Effectively, football can not only be about sports, but also about social, political and economic aspects as well. This was evident as the examples given through the 1988 European Championships held in West Germany (going back into the political regards and agreements of the Cold War in the post-WWII years and beyond), the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, the racial discrimination of the Dutch players during their qualifying campaign and the Greece against Germany quarter-finals match. All of them are important for further consideration, with the UEFA and FIFA acting cohesively together with world governments. Otherwise, without that key act, football will always remain with this darker side looming over it. But then again, that is probably why it is such a popular sport globally?