Caught doping in an Olympic Sport? WADA will hit you with a 4 year ban for the first offence. If you get caught doping a second time you face a lifetime ban. Major professional sports, on the other hand, start with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist before moving to escalating suspensions.
What about MMA? The sport, which arguably has the greatest need for protecting participants from those who seek advantage by using illicit PED’s, has no uniform policy. MMA penalties for PED abuse will vary at the discretion of State and Provincial Athletic Commissions and in some circumstances at the discretion of fight promotions. If a uniform model is adopted the question is which way should it lean; the no nonsense way of WADA or the more lenient ways established in professional sports? If science is used as a guide the former is likely the answer.
The issue of PED’s in combat sports has taken the spotlight again with one of MMA’s pioneers, Ken Shamrock, admitting the not so well kept secret that PED abuse is prevalent in the sport. Shamrock told AXSTV
“I never entered into the ring while using steroids…just to get that clear…but I have used steroids in the past….it is a problem because what is happening is the people who are making the most money are the people who can obviously spend money to cheat, to get around the testing. That’s the issue you run into.”
Shamrock goes on to call out for reform arguing change needs to take place at the entry level to weed out PED cheats before they get a foot hold in the sport.
While Shamrock’s calls for reform are welcome his distinction of using but never “entering the ring” while on steroids is artificial at best. Recent scientific study demonstrates that there are long term gains to PED use which can continue well after the drugs are discontinued.
In a 2006 study involving power lifters it was found that the athletes continued to enjoy advantage over their clean peers years after they stopped using the drugs. Specifically the research concluded that “Based on the characteristics between doped and non-doped power lifters, we conclude that a period of anabolic steroid usage is an advantage for a power lifter in competition, even several years after they stop taking a doping drug.”
In a study published last year in the Journal of Physiology researchers looked into long term benefits of anabolic steroids after discontinuance and concluded that “brief exposure to anabolic steroids might have long lasting performance-enhancing effects.”. The study involved mice who were treated with testosterone. The researchers hypothesize that PED use can result in a 10 year advantage in human beings even after discontinuance and are currently working with the help of WADA funding to further explore this topic.
These studies suggest combatants who use illicit PED’s can gain long term benefit well after cycling off the drugs. In other words, there may be no such thing as a fair fight after doping. Appreciating that PED bans exist to protect clean competitors, the real question is how long of a ban is appropriate? If studies such as these form the foundation of a regulatory norm then long term WADA style bans would be well justified.