A history of doping in sport and the anti-doping movement in New Zealand

Doping, along with other forms of cheating in sport, is not new. 

In the third century BC, Greek athletes were taking varieties of mushrooms to improve their performances, while Roman gladiators were said to take stimulants to overcome fatigue.

Doping in modern sport has been reported since the middle of the 19th Century, including the death of an English cyclist in 1896 after he used ephedrine during the Paris-Bordeaux cycle race.

A dramatic increase in doping in sport was registered from the 1960s onwards and the first doping controls were introduced at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.  Two weightlifters had to return their gold medals at those Olympics after they were found to have doped.

In 1974, reliable testing methods were discovered for testosterone and anabolic steroids, which were added to the International Olympic Committee’s list of Prohibited Substances in 1976.  This led to a number of doping-related disqualifications in the late 1970s.  

However, there were still strong suspicions of state-sponsored doping practices in some countries, such as the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

At the 1983 Pan-American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, many athletes withdrew after they learned that a new and more rigorous drug testing regime had been introduced.

However, it was the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games which really brought doping in sport to the world’s attention when Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m gold medal after testing positive for anabolic steroid use.

There was a clear expectation that the next major games, the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990, should be clean.

The New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association (NZOCGA) responded by introducing a drugs testing programme for all athletes who were in contention to compete for New Zealand at those Games.  

The NZOCGA then went on to run a more comprehensive testing programme which would cover a wider range of sports, including most Olympic sports, but also some others as well, such as rugby.

In the 1990s, there was a shift from the use of stimulants and anabolic steroids to blood doping with EPO and human growth hormone.  This period of time also saw the introduction of Athlete Whereabouts Programmes to track athletes’ movements to enable out-of-competition testing.

In New Zealand, the 1990s saw the establishment of the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency, chaired by High Court Judge, Sir Graham Speight. The New Zealand Government signed the International Anti-doping Arrangement in 1994, which saw numerous countries co-operate on anti-doping matters. And in January 1995, the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency became a crown entity with a board appointed by the Minister for Sport.

The first World Conference on Doping in Sport was held in 1999, a year after French customs officials and the Police had discovered performance-enhancing drugs in a Tour de France team’s support vehicle.  This conference led to the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was tasked with being operational before the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

In New Zealand, the founding chair of the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency, Sir Graham Speight, was replaced by David Howman.  However, Mr Howman, was soon recruited by the fledgling World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2003 and then became that organisation’s Director-General.

Otago University Associate Professor David Gerrard became the new chair in 2003. The World Anti-Doping Code came into force in the same year and Drug Free Sport NZ became a signatory.  

A subsequent law change in 2007, saw the Sports Anti-Doping Act come into force allowing the New Zealand regulations to align with those of the World Anti Doping Code.  This Act also saw the name of the New Zealand’s anti-doping organisation change to Drug Free Sport NZ.  

In February 2011, Michael Heron, an Auckland based lawyer, became chair of Drug Free Sport NZ.  He was replaced in 2013 by High Court Judge, Justice Warrick Gendall.  

In 2015, a revised Anti-Doping Code will come into force which will see two new anti-doping rule violations introduced along with tougher sanctions for real cheats.