The word doping is probably derived from the Dutch word dop, the name of an alcoholic beverage made of grape skins used by Zulu warriors in order to enhance their prowess in battle. The term became current around the turn of the 20th century, originally referring to illegal drugging of racehorses. The practice of enhancing performance through foreign substances or other artificial means, however, is as old as competitive sport itself.
Doping is the word used in sport when athletes use prohibited substances or methods to unfairly improve their sporting performance.
The practice of doping in sport – the use of substances and artificial ways of enhancing performance – is possibly as old as organised sport itself. Even in Ancient Greece, athletes used special diets and stimulants to build strength, but it was not until the 1920s that it became clear that restrictions were needed on drug use in sport.
The first International Sport Federation to ban the use of stimulating substances was the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1928, paving the way for many other sports to follow in their footsteps. However, no testing was carried out at this time.
It was not until the death of Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen as he took part in the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, where the autopsy revealed traces of amphetamine, that pressure mounted for sports authorities to introduce drug testing.
Six years later, in 1966, the cycling and football federations (UCI and FIFA) introduced drug tests during their World Championships, pre-empting the first Olympic testing at the Grenoble Winter Games and the Olympics in Mexico, in 1968.
As for Gymnastics, the first in-competition doping controls were performed in 2004 by FIG and UEG, and out-of-competition testing started in 2005 by WADA.
The use of doping substances or doping methods to enhance performance is fundamentally wrong and is detrimental to the overall impact of sport. Drug misuse can be harmful to a gymnast’s health or to other gymnasts competing in the sport. It severely damages the integrity, image and value of sport, whether or not the motivation to use drugs is to improve performance.
To achieve integrity and fairness in sport, a commitment from gymnasts is critical, but the fans watching their favorite gymnasts competing also need to demand that gymnasts succeed.