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The year in issues: Doping
The US elections, the insurgency in Iraq, Yasser Arafat's death, this year had its big news stories. But what else made a splash in 2004?

The BBC News website looks at some of the issues that got the pundits pondering. Click on the links below to find out more.

Video terror


Obesity

Religion



Doping


World War II

Role of the blog



Doping

Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou
Two Greek sprinters suspended by athletics' ruling body after missing drugs tests at Olympics

The consensus at the end of 2004 remained that drugs and sport should not mix; nonetheless, the year did see something of a debate about the role of performance enhancers in sport.

The European 100m champion Dwain Chambers was the year's first casualty of the battle against doping, receiving a two-year suspension from all competition and a life-time Olympic ban after testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid THG.

Because of his test results, in April the entire British 4x100m relay team lost the silver medals they won at the 2003 World Championships.

And they were not the only ones to be stripped of medals this year. Three athletes lost their awards at the Athens Olympics - a record for the Games. Indeed, there were 24 doping violations in Athens - making these Olympics the worst ever on the doping front.

The IOC president Jacques Rogge - who had warned prior to the games that the increased testing would produce more cheats - argued that the event had been enhanced by their exposure. People, he insisted, wanted to know what they were watching was credible.

Further sporting disgraces followed the Olympics. The 33-year-old US sprinter Michelle Collins, who has never tested positive for drugs, was banned for eight years in a landmark case this December.

She was one of the 13 athletic casualties of the scandal surrounding American laboratory Balco, which has been accused of supplying top level athletes with illegal performance-enhancing steroids.

College students take Ritalin to improve their academic performance. Musicians take beta blockers to improve their onstage performance. Middle-aged men take Viagra to improve their sexual performance. Shy people take Paxil to improve their social performance
New York Times

While declaring that drug taking in the Olympics was rife, Balco founder Victor Conte argued in a recent TV interview that it should no longer be seen as fraud. "It's not cheating if everybody is doing it. And if you've got the knowledge that that's what everyone is doing, and those are the real rules of the game, then you're not cheating."

Of course, those are not the rules of the game. Nonetheless, Mr Conte's remarks provided some food for thought.

Some pundits suggested that if athletes are prepared to take the risks involved with taking steroids, then on their head be it, while the Economist magazine this year argued that there were no right or wrong answers to the question as to whether some performance-enhancing drugs should be allowed.

It argued: "Is it not part of the spirit of sport the pursuit of ever greater performance? Athletes do all sorts of things to improve their performance, to give them an edge, including things with similar physiological effects to steroids: training at high altitude, or spending long hours in an altitude chamber."

One option, the magazine argued, would be to allow the organisers of each individual sport to decide if enhancers should be allowed and if so, which ones.

The bulk of commentators, however, decried any mixing of athletics and drugs as an attack on the spirit of sport, but even within their ranks some declared that in a world where everyday life is dominated by performance enhancers, doping is understandable - if not justifiable.

"College students take Ritalin to improve their academic performance. Musicians take beta blockers to improve their onstage performance. Middle-aged men take Viagra to improve their sexual performance. Shy people take Paxil to improve their social performance," ran a New York Times editorial.

"The difference is that if athletes want to get performance-enhancing drugs they go to the black market. If the rest of us want performance-enhancing drugs, we go to our family doctors."




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