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Danny Hughes: Drug use in sport: An endless question, an uncomfortable truth

On many occasions at half-time in football matches, the puff of an inhaler may well have been beneficial to me, even enhanced my performance and gave me an ‘edge’ on my opponent

I CALL it the ‘Uncomfortable Truth’.

Cheating in sport is rife. It is in all sport.

Taking a puff of an inhaler. Diving. Blood doping. Creatine. Bribery.

Not all cheating is the same though. Could we justifiably argue that taking a cortisol steroid injection before a match to relieve pain is cheating?

If that is the case, then I am a cheat. I voluntarily had too many steroid pain-killing injections throughout my years in playing gaelic football to put a number on it, but it is certainly over 10 and less than 30.

Ankle, knee and groin issues resulted in a prick of the dreaded injection.

In many instances, they ‘dulled’ the effects rather than eliminated the pain.

Did I think of the consequences? To be honest, no.

When you are playing and operating at the top of your sport, there is an unbalanced egotistical risk adverse approach taken to short and long-term injuries.

Being a ‘man’ about things will result in doing whatever it takes to get onto the field.

Somewhere in the subconscious, you will want others to know exactly what you are willing to do to win a game.

You are an extremist. You are more than likely an egomaniac.

There are many who will be willing to sacrifice their mortality to win at all costs. This may involve cheating.

This cheating may be more sophisticated and premeditated in many sports, via blood doping (Lance Armstrong) but anyone who doesn’t think that all sports in some way are guilty of cheating are kidding themselves.

As long as competition exists, the bending and blatant disregard for rules will exist.

The ancient Olympic champions were professionals who competed for huge prizes as well as olive wreaths (imagine our winning teams receiving one of these).

It was said that most forms of what we would call cheating were acceptable to them.

They gorged themselves on high-rich protein such as meat that was not the dietary norm of the Greeks.

They would also experiment with herbal medications in an attempt to enhance their performance.

Not unlike the Greeks, I have the impression that we have now accepted the fact that many cyclists are competing within the sport at the highest level on an equal footing and that equal footing is entirely based around their common usage of drugs.

Is it coincidental that there is a proportionally large amount of asthma suffers competing at the highest levels of cycling?

Many seem to have TUE’s (Therapeutic Usage Exemptions).

In other words, they are allowed to use inhalers, which contain many banned substances.

Supposedly, within my own medical records, the doctor adjudged me at a young age to have asthma. My mum was having none of it.

Despite the fact that the condition ran in the family my father was all too aware that a heavy chest infection did not automatically warrant issuing a life-long prognosis of asthma.

To be honest though in hindsight, on many occasions at half-time in football matches, the puff of an inhaler may well have been beneficial to me, even enhanced my performance and gave me an ‘edge’ on my opponent.

Although I did not have an inhaler or wanted one, I know plenty of ‘asthma’ sufferers who took this precautionary action.

They would have openly told you, that they got a ‘boost’. I even witnessed it being passed around on a few occasions to other players.

Drug testing was never that common in our squad. One look at some of our performances most years at county level, you could tell that we weren’t on performance-enhancing drugs anyway, never mind recreational drugs.

Creatine is an increasingly common drug being used in gaelic football. A naturally-occurring stimulant of the body, Creatine helps to reduce lactic acid in the muscles and speeds up recovery as a naturally occurring human painkiller.

For many gaelic players, that fact that they hear this word, ‘naturally-occurring drug’, will virtually guarantee its safe usage.

However many players in gaelic games are using Creatine in such toxic quantities that the body is unable to process it safely.

It was rumoured that Creatine use by one of the greatest rugby players of this generation, Jonah Lomu, was directly or indirectly attributed to his kidney failure and health problems.

The fact that a man of his size could create as much power as he did was definitely the man-made poster boy for this product, if one was required.

While I do not think widespread performance enhancing drug use is prevalent in gaelic games yet, it may well get to that stage eventually.

As night follows day, given the exposure and levels of preparation involved in gaelic games at inter-county level today, more and more players will be tempted to enhance their performance by any means.

This may mean taking steps ‘out of competition’ to improve their body shape of indeed their own athleticism.

They may not test positive on ‘game day’ but the means of getting to compete may have involved cheating and enhancing their own performance.

Yet, personally, I do not feel that taking a painkilling injection prior to a football match is cheating.

In my eyes, the justification is that you want to be competing on an equal footing to those around you.

I have read asthma sufferer Chris Froome's explanation for having double the dosage of Salbutamol in his urine sample during the 2017 Vuelta a España.

He said his asthma got worse at the Vuelta and he had followed the team doctor’s advice to increase his Salbutamol dosage, taking a few more puffs on the inhaler during the stages.

It is hard to see where my justification starts for taking painkillers and Chris Froome’s ends for taking a few more puffs than he should of the inhaler.

Are they the same? The lines are blurred.

What is acceptable and what is not?

The endless question and the uncomfortable truth.

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