Can sports men/women overcome drug scandals?

Drug scandals in the modern era have the power to completely decimate an athletes’ career. The cases of the 1984 100m Olympic champion Ben Johnson, five time Olympic Gold medallist from the 2000 Sydney Olympics Marion Jones and most recently 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, are prime examples of how a drug scandal can wreck a career and destroy a reputation for good.

There are some athletes, however, that have been involved in drug scandals and returned from it. Some more successful than others of course, but for some athletes at least, a drug scandal has merely been a blip in their career rather than its total destruction.


Rio Ferdinand missed a drugs test in 2003 and was later banned and fined. Photo: The Sport Review (via Flickr)

Rio Ferdinand is one example where a drug scandal does not ruin a career. In 2003, Rio Ferdinand was found guilty of missing a drug test. Despite submitting a clean sample two days later, the FA were forced into making an example of him and did so to tremendous effect.

Ferdinand was fined £50,000 but more importantly banned for 8 months at the start of 2004. That ban ruled him out of Euro 2004, showing the FA weren’t afraid of their decisions implicating their own national teams interest.

Ferdinand has said that his time away from the game was the lowest point of his career. He continued to say that it was his own fault for missing the drug test and not playing for 8 months made him more responsible.

Since that ban, Ferdinand has continued to be one of Manchester United’s most successful defenders, winning 6 Premier League trophies, 1 Champions League as well as numerous individual honours. Ferdinand has also received over 80 England caps and would have captained them in the 2010 World Cup if it weren’t for a knee ligament injury that ruled him out of the entire tournament.

Rio’s indiscretion made him look stupid but crucially not a drug cheat. His long-term suspension appeared to focus his mind and helped him become the dominant central defender he was. With a career now slowly winding down, Ferdinand is more of role model now and his “Live the Dream Foundation”, which was set up in December 2009 aims to improve the life of young people in Peckham.

Ferdinand is an excellent example of an athlete coming back stronger from a drug scandal. But remember, he never actually failed a drug test.

Another athlete that failed to show up a routine drug test but go on to achieve the best success of their career afterwards is Christine Ohuruogu.

Ohuruogo missed three out-of-competition drug tests, named the “whereabouts” system, one in October 2005 and two in June 2006.

For that she received a 1-year ban from all competitions and The British Olympic Association imposed a lifetime ban on her to compete at an Olympic Games for Great Britain.

Ohuruogu appealed that decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which was first rejected. She then appealed again, claiming that she would leave Britain and compete for another nation if the decision was upheld for the second time. Ohuruogo’s Olympic ban was over-ruled in November 2007.

Following on from that, she was selected to compete at the 2007 World Athletics Championship for GB, claiming gold in the 400m and bronze in the 4x400m relay.

She then kicked on again to claim an incredible Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing, vindicating the decision to over turn her Olympic ban.

Yes, her threat to compete for another nation and the possibility of her winning a gold for another country obviously forced the hand of The British Olympic Association, as it would have been a huge embarrassment, but even so, a gold medal for Great Britain is always going to be appreciated.

In London 2012, she won the silver medal in the 400m, with Richards-Ross piping her to gold by 0.15 of a second.

Ohuruogo again demonstrates that a drug scandal does not necessarily mean the end of career. Indeed, her best time as an athlete came after her suspension but again, like Ferdinand, she was never actually guilty of testing positive to a banned substance.

From drug scandals that didn’t actually involve a failed drug test to the real drug cheats from the sporting world that have attempted to return to their sports career.

Dwain Chambers is one of example of this exact feat. In 2003, Chambers tested positive for a banned substance taken from a sample for an out-of-competition drugs test.

In a confession interview with the BBC, he revealed that he begun using drugs at the beginning of 2002. Shamed and disgraced, Chambers was unable to compete again until June 11th 2006. He tried to keep himself occupied during his absence from athletics, including an unsuccessful try-out with the San Francisco 49ers and a spell on reality TV show, Hell’s Kitchen.

Upon his return to competition, Chambers rose to the top of the list of GB’s fastest sprinters but relative to the world stage, he would never trouble the likes of Usain Bolt or Asafa Powell.

Due to the lifetime ban imposed on Chambers by the British Olympic Association, that was upheld following a High Court challenge in 2008, Chambers was unable to compete at the 2008 Beijing and London 2012 Olympics.

Failing a drug test cost Chambers his reputation and denied him competing on athletics greatest stage. He may still have had the ability, but his career was and still is blighted by his failed drug test in 2003.

Other sportsmen that have been involved in a drug scandal include footballer Adrian Mutu and jockey, Frankie Dettori.

Not long after sealing a big move to free-spending Chelsea from Parma, Adrian Mutu was expected to fire the Blues to glory at home and in Europe. Despite some promising early form, he endured a torrid time off the pitch, which affected his performances, but the admission that he took drugs saw him kicked out of the club in 2004 and banned for seven months.

Since his ban, the Romanian striker has been asked to pay his former club a sum equivalent to the £15.8m they paid for him, and moves to Juventus and Fiorentina failed to see him rediscover his undoubted talent. In 2010, while at Fiorentina, he failed yet another drugs test, which saw him receive a six-month ban. He has also been caught up in numerous sex scandals, and now plays for Ligue 1 minnows Ajaccio.

Mutu hasn’t really recovered. Although he’s still playing professionally and at a good standard, it seems that his career hasn’t been quite as stellar as he might have expected it to be.

Finally, Frankie Dettori, who is the latest sportsmen to be involved in a drug scandal on this list.

To date, the 42-year-old Italian-born jockey has done it all in the sport, and prior to his drug scandal, was one of the few figures in horse racing who enjoyed widespread popularity among fans of every sport. However, after admitting to taking cocaine in the aftermath of a failed drugs test, he received a six-month ban from competing.

Not long after his low-key comeback last month, Dettori was alleged to have failed yet another drugs test after riding in France. Although nothing concrete has come from the tests, it seems that a comeback is going to be difficult to achieve.

Fortunately for him, he recently became an ambassador for Your Golf Travel, which could be the first step towards redemption. He has also spoken frankly to the media about what has happened, so a comeback might not be entirely impossible.

It appears that if you’re just forgetful, like Rio Ferdinand and Christine Ohuruogu, you can comeback and be successful in your chosen sport, but a failed drugs test can and as most athletes and lovers of sport would hope, should be the end of a sporting career.

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