Sport, Drugs, and the Cold War: The Conundrum of Olympic Doping Policy, 1970-1979

By Hunt, Thomas M. | Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Sport, Drugs, and the Cold War: The Conundrum of Olympic Doping Policy, 1970-1979


Hunt, Thomas M., Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies


This article addresses the development of anti-doping policies by Olympic officials during the 1970s. Although some progress was made during the decade, organizational and political inertia prevented the creation of an effective regulatory framework. In seeking to avoid expenses associated with drug testing and legal appeals of positive screens, International Olympic Committee leaders consistently claimed that other organizations in the Olympic Movement--International Sports Federations that governed each sport and organizing committees for individual competitions--held primary authority over the issue. As a result of this situation, unscrupulous athletes, coaches, and sports officials were able to take advantage of several loopholes within the Olympic Movement's doping control system. National sporting bodies on both sides of the Iron Curtain, motivated by political pressure to win medals at international competitions, either disregarded the problem or explicitly supported the use of drugs by their athletes.

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International history scholars have in recent years begun to study transnational cultural connections alongside the high-level state-to-state interactions that were once their exclusive subject of concern. (1) During the cold war a variety of cultural issues ranging from religious ideologies to literature, cinema, and sports, were subsumed within the superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. As part of this framework, the Olympic Movement became an important site through which America and its allies waged proxy battles against the communist-bloc for global prestige. The resulting quest for dominance in the Olympic medals race led to the creation of highly sophisticated sport systems that utilized the latest scientific advances in athletic training and exercise physiology. When combined with individual chemical experimentation among elite athletes, these activities triggered an explosion of performance-enhancing drugs at Olympic competitions. After the death of Danish cyclist Knud Jensen at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, which was reportedly caused by amphetamines, a unique international politics of doping developed through which the various national and transnational components of the Olympic governance structure addressed the issue. (2)

While several works concerning the politics of doping exist (several of which are admittedly excellent), they have been limited either temporally or by a lack of access to archival sources of information. (3) Using primary documentation from a variety of locations, this article addresses Olympic doping policy during the crucial decade of the 1970s. During these years, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) implemented a vast, state-sponsored doping program that eventually forced some 10,000 athletes--many against their will--to ingest dangerous levels of performance-enhancing substances. (4) Not willing to sit still, as a country the size of Tennessee passed it in the Olympic medal counts, the United States attempted to circumvent the International Olympic Committee's doping regulations by pointing out loopholes in its protocols. At the end of the decade, American sport officials were led to initiate an initiative of their own that studied the potential of drugs to boost the competitiveness of their athletes.

Although many members of the International Olympic Committee realized by the 1970s that the accelerating use of performance-enhancing drugs at their competitions was becoming increasingly worrisome, their regulatory efforts were hampered by several political and organizational conflicts related to the subject. (5) For their part, IOC leaders were particularly eager to avoid the expense and potential legal ramifications of drug protocols by claiming that the other components of the international athletics system--including the international federations that governed each sport and the organizing committees for the individual competitions--held primary jurisdiction over the issue. …

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Sport, Drugs, and the Cold War: The Conundrum of Olympic Doping Policy, 1970-1979
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