Shoaib Akhtar is the latest to wear the label “drug cheat“, as he and fellow Pakistani fast bowler, Mohammad Asif, head home in disgrace from the Champions Trophy after failing tests for the steroid Nandrolone.

Of course, Shoaib was shocked and mystified, vowing that he had never knowingly taking a banned substance, which puts him up there with Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, baseballer Barry Bonds and almost every other athlete ever to return a positive test.

For all Crikey Sport knows, Shoaib may well be telling the truth, which would suggest that the real scandal in world sport is not cheating athletes – it’s the dastardly doctors and other assistants who lurk around every corner, just waiting to pop unknown and career-devastating substances into the mouths of poor, innocent athletes.

One thing not in doubt is that both Akhtar and Asif have recently returned from injury, raising the suggestion that Nandrolone might have played a role in their recovery.

Rather than just tut-tut from afar, let’s ask the question: why can’t an athlete use a steroid to recover from a specific injury?

If you had a dodgy hamstring, for example, why can’t you receive medical clearance for a specific and targeted course of steroids, supervised by independent doctors, to recover more quickly? Not to bulk up, not to deliberately get a performance edge – simply to be fit again.

Richard Ings, the chairman of ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, said the answer is simple: a sports injury is not serious enough to warrant the health risks of steroids. Ings said:

There are significant potential side effects to taking steroids, including cardio-vascular disease, the formation of male breasts, serious live damage, among others.

The medical advice we receive is that doctors weigh benefits against risk when prescribing any drug and an athletic injury is not likely to be considered serious enough to warrant these potential health risks.

Steroids are approved for therapeutic use for breast cancer or osteoporosis, among other serious diseases. But athletes with injuries? It’s a health issue. There are other ways, aside from steroids, to recover from injuries – they may well be slower but they’re safer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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