TV show that tests drugs on athletes sparks official fury

Channel 4 criticised over programme showing effects of doping

A controversial television experiment in which amateur sportsmen are injected with anabolic steroids to test their effectiveness has been branded "irresponsible" by UK Sport, the official body that deals with drug testing.

A controversial television experiment in which amateur sportsmen are injected with anabolic steroids to test their effectiveness has been branded "irresponsible" by UK Sport, the official body that deals with drug testing.

The production company behind Cheating at Athens - Is it Worth It?, to be screened on Channel 4 on Thursday, a day ahead of the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics, deny the allegation.

They say the programme forms a groundbreaking scientific experiment into the effects of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The doctor who carried out the experiments told The Independent on Sunday yesterday there were risks involved but they were worth it because of the value of the results the programme has thrown up. Cheating at Athens will show the damaging side-effects of taking steroids and other such drugs, which include depression, hair loss, increased aggression and shrinking of the testes.

Amateur athletes - many regular gym-goers - from the UK, Australia, United States, Canada and New Zealand spent six weeks at a secret training camp near Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, where they were monitored by doctors from an Australian university.

Of the 24 guinea pigs - all men - 18 received regular injections. Nine were given steroids, while the other half were injected with a harmless placebo. Crucially, neither the athletes, coaches, nor scientists running the experiment knew which athletes had been injected with anabolic steroids. The other six men were given legal performance-enhancing drugs, such as creatine, caffeine and colostrum. The final results have in part surprised the scientists. In some cases, those men injected with a placebo did better over six weeks than some of those injected with steroids, indicating that some of the effects of steroids might be in the mind or else that steroids do not work for all athletes.

UK Sport last night poured scorn on the programme-makers' claims that it was a worthwhile scientific experiment. A spokesman said: "We certainly have issues about the principles surrounding the programme. It troubles us, particularly from an ethical and health point of view.

"It's just irresponsible. What sort of message does that send out to young, up-and-coming athletes?"

A spokesman for the programme's producers, Mentorn, denied that it was irresponsible, pointing out that it highlighted the side-effects to taking steroids more than their performance-enhancing qualities. "It should make anyone watching think very seriously about the potential harm they may do to themselves by taking these drugs."

The experiment was overseen by Robert Weatherby, a leading doping expert at Southern Cross University in New South Wales. Dr Weatherby admitted that the volunteers had been put at risk but claimed it was worth it. "There is always a risk," he said. "But if we want to find out more about such drugs we really don't have any choice but to administer it to people in the safest possible way."

After three weeks of intense training and injections, several athletes began to feel the effects. Dan Davis, 29, an Australian, saw a dramatic increase in the amount he could lift in the gym. "It does feel good," he said. "I'm 95 per cent certain I'm on the steroids. It makes you more outgoing."

Not everyone was happy, though. One athlete worried the steroids had made him more angry, while another said: "I don't really like the person I'm becoming."

"Big Dan", from Canada, was so worried that his mood swings and acne were caused by steroids that he decided to leave the programme after four weeks. It was only once he had left the experiment that Dr Weatherby informed him that he had actually been given the placebo. Mentorn had invited UK Sport to be involved, but the government body declined.

The programme, which will also be screened in Australia, has come under heavy criticism there. Two of Australia's greatest Olympians, swimmers Dawn Fraser and Kieran Perkins, have warned the programme may encourage young people to take steroids. Michele Verokken, one of the world's leading authorities on anti-doping, who used to be head of drug testing for UK Sport, said that despite concerns over the ethics of such a programme, it could prove to be a worthwhile experiment. She said: "I wouldn't condone the programme as a good way forward, but it might help to get the message through. It could help show these aren't magic potions."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence