The Biggest Doping Scandals in Sports

The Tour de France has been marred by various doping scandals. Editorial credit: Marc Pagani Photography /
The Tour de France has been marred by various doping scandals. Editorial credit: Marc Pagani Photography /

The use of performance-enhancing drugs and the failures by the governments and agency to control the spread is a growing threat to the integrity of sports. While some athletes are spending endless hours in the gym and eating right or pushing their bodies to the limits in training grounds to improve their talents, others are turning to outlawed drugs and doping. Use of drugs is not only against the spirit of completion but is also risky for the user as it can cause health complications. Here are some of the biggest doping scandals in history, including individual athletes, sports leagues, corporations, and state-run doping programs.

10. Rashid Ramzi

Rashid Ramzi is a Moroccan-born Bahraini athlete who competes internationally in the 800 and 1,500 meters races. He was the first athlete to ever win both events in the same completion (2015 World Championship). In 2008, he won the first gold medal for Bahrain in an Olympic Game. However, he was investigated by the IAAF soon after the 2008 Summer Olympic Games for using banned substances. He tested positive for using CERA, a blood-boosting substance, and was stripped of his gold medal. However, he still represents the country in international games and mostly trains in Morocco.

9. Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez is a former baseball player who played in the Major League Baseball (MLB) for about 19 seasons. He is arguably one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. Ramirez played for several clubs including Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox. However, in 2009, he was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Ramirez was found to have used the banned human chorionic gonadotropin while playing for Los Angeles Dodgers. He violated the policy again in 2011 and was banned for 100 games but he opted to retire instead of serving the ban.

8. Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is a former Canadian sprinter who set two consecutive world records for 100 meters sprint; at the 1987 World Championship and 1988 Summer Olympics. He won a gold medal at 1988, beating his rival Carl Lewis. He ran the race in a record 9.79 seconds. However, his win was short-lived as his urine samples tested positive for stanozolol. He was disqualified and stripped of his gold medal three days later. Johnson would later admit to using steroids when he set a new world record in 1987 with the IAAF rescinding that record as well.

7. Floyd Landis

Floyd Landis is a former American road racing cyclist. He was the winner of the 2006 Tour de France and only the third non-European to win the event in history. However, he tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of the title which was subsequently given to Oscar Pereiro. He mounted a defense until 2010 when the disqualification was upheld. The suspension from the sport lasted to January 30, 2009. Landis finally admitted to doping on May 20, 2010, and even admitted to incidences of doping among riders who rode on his team including Lance Armstrong.

6. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is an accomplished road racing cyclist. He started taking part in cycling competitions at the age of 16 and begun a professional cycling career with the Motorola team. Lance took part in several championships including Tour de France and World Championships. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 but recovered and returned to cycling in 1998. He won Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. However, from 1999, he had been accused of doping but always denied the accusation. Lance finally admitted to using the PED during an interview in January 2013. He was stripped of his titles.

5. The Festina Affair

The Festina Affair is a series of doping cases that were reported during and after the 1998 Tour de France. The doping scandal started with the finding of large amounts of doping products in a car that belonged to the Festina cycling team before the race kicked off. The investigations that followed uncovered a systematic doping that involved several teams of the Tour de France. The police searched the hotel rooms and detained some personnel while some teams withdrew from the race. Both the retired and current riders also confessed to either taking part or having knowledge of the doping.

4. The Mitchell Report

The Mitchell Report was a report that was presented by Senator George J Mitchell of Maine, US, on the use of steroid and human growth hormones in Major League Baseball. It took Mitchell 20 months to investigate and prepare the over 400-page report which was released on December 13, 2007. The report highlighted the history of the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by the players. The report also recommends how the past banned drug use can be handled and how to prevent future use. According to Mitchell’s report, 5-7% of players tested positive for steroid use.

3. The BALCO Scandal

The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal involved doping among professional athletes. BALCO was a San Francisco Bay Area enterprise that supplied professional athletes with anabolic steroids. The laboratory made and sold substances that could go undetected by drug testing. The substances were sold successfully between 1988 and 2002 by Anderson, Arnold, and Conte. An official investigation into the activities of BALCO began in 2002. Several athletes including Jason Giambi, Tim Montgomery, and Marion Jones have been named in the scandal, although Marion Jones denied ever using any banned substance.

2. China

A doping program was sanctioned by the government of China in the 1980s-1990s. The program focused on athletes, mainly swimmers and resulted from the unexpected improvement of the swimmers. In 1992, the number of Chinese swimmers in the world’s top 25 ranking had increased from 30 to 98. During the 1994 World Aquatic Championship, China won 12 of 16 gold medals and set numerous records amid suspicions of doping. Between 1990 and 1998, almost 50% of the illegal drug offenders in sports were from China with 28 athletes testing positive.

1. Russia

Doping in Russia is widespread and systematic with the government accused of assisting athletes to commit the offense. The country has been stripped of 51 Olympic medals for engaging in doping. Over one thousand Russian athletes benefited from the doping cover-up between 2011 and 2015. The state has been accused of sponsoring doping with state agencies undermining doping tests. Hundreds of Russian athletes have tested positive and admitted to using banned substances. Because of widespread doping and failure to comply with international policies on doping, Russia was banned from taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics by the IOC with only selected athletes were allowed to take part under the Olympic flag.


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