History of Drugs in Sport

Gavin Stone asked:

The action of taking a banned substance to improve performance in sport is referred to as doping. The term dope originated from South Africa where it was used to describe a primitive alcoholic drink that was used as a stimulant at ceremonial dances. Over time the term doping graduated to a sporting context where it is referred to as athletes using a banned substance or methods that may improve sporting performance. The term doping first appeared in an English dictionary in 1879, however drugs in sport have been evident throughout the history of sport.

BC Period

Sport played a large role in society in BC times. Around the period of 800BC emphasis was placed on the artistic nature of sport on top of being a preparatory method for the warriors of that time. However from 400BC sport received a new status whereby it was of similar priority, if not higher than it is in modern times, therefore seeing the demise of the amateur competitor. Professional sport ultimately led to corruption and cheating, with competitors willing to invest in any preparation which would lead to victory. In this period a method that was thought to lead to a higher level of sporting performance was consuming extracts of mushrooms and plant seeds.


Through evolution from the BC Greek period to the Roman Empire period, the status of sport continued to develop. The use of drugs in this period was well recorded, chariot racers feed their horses a potent mixture to make them run faster, while many gladiators where doped up to make their fights sufficiently vigorous and bloody for the paying public to view.

Christian Period

During the Christian era sport played a small role in society with only sports such as boxing being offered as a substitute for the games of the Roman period. Seeing as sport did not have a high place in society in this period, drugs in sport was not an issue as there were no rewards for success.

The 19th Century

The 19th century once again saw the introduction of sport in society as a social priority, therefore drugs in sport became more evident in this period as opposed to the Christian era. With the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 19th century there became increasing methods in both the development of sport and sports performance enhancement. By the turn of the century sport had developed a significant institution in its own right and to succeed in sport became highly valued. This placed pressure which has contributed to the escalation in drug taking in sport, as well as the number of drug related deaths in the sporting community.

Modern Times

In 1988 in Australia the national Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts began an inquiry into the use of drugs by Australian athletes. This enquiry led to the establishment of the Australian Drug Sports Agency (ASDA) in 1990.

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