25 Nov

Does Doping Affect Grass Roots?

Spencer Matthew

Am I being naive? Is doping a problem consigned to elite level sport or is this a serious issue at grass roots too?

The allegations against Russian athletics centres on cheating at Olympic level and are pretty damning. As a fan of the sport, it saddens me that we have been cheated of an honest sporting spectacle – we’ve been conned. 
But to be honest, it doesn’t really affect me as a runner. Doping is not something which I even give a passing thought to when I am running, whether it is in training, at my local parkrun or at a 10k.
Now I wonder if I should. 
This week’s news that Reality TV star Spencer Matthews was forced to quit ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’ due to steroid use highlights much more than just the vanity of fame.
The ‘Made in Chelsea’ star, - who has ran several marathons and 10k runs -  expressed regret at his use of the drugs, saying he was bulking up for a celebrity boxing match, which ironically never took place. It’s still a strange excuse though - let’s just assume his scheduled opponent isn’t feeling too charitable towards Matthews now.
But Matthews is not the only young British man who has turned to performance enhancing drugs. Home Office figures estimate 60,000 people used steroids in the UK in 2014 and health charities fear that’s a very conservative estimate and is more likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
In much the same way that young girls have been pressured by the media to be ultra slim, there is now an increasing pressure on young men to have muscular, big physiques. Just look at the aftershave adverts being aired in the lead-in to Christmas and the God-like figures and it’s understandable why they feel pressurised.  
The short-cut to this look is via steroids, now easily bought online. Performance enhancing drugs are now just a few clicks away for any of us. Is it therefore naive to believe that use of steroids, testosterone and EPO and other such drugs are not being used by runners at grass roots too? 
Runners who are far below the level where they might be drug tested, but who take part in local races competing with their peers, do they cheat? I respect my fellow runners and one of the great joys of the sport is the shared experience; the discipline, the suffering and the sense of achievement.
I think we are all on a level playing field. But am I being idealistic? Unrealistic? I sincerely hope not.