Drugs In Sport: Bowring tries to lift the stigma

Whether it is powerlifting or weightlifting, the general view is that both have a drugs problem.

DEAN BOWRING is a man with a seemingly impossible mission. The 24-year-old power- lifter from Hampshire, a member of the British squad and ranked second in the country in his class, wants to convince people his sport has cleaned up its act. A staunch anti-drugs campaigner, he feels aggrieved that clean participants in lifting are tarnished by association with those who are not.

"I make no money at all from powerlifting. I do it because I love doing it," he said. "In the British squad, I'd say 99 per cent of lifters are clean." He added: "But when that squad goes away to lift internationally, most of the other countries take drugs and they speak openly about it." Bowring's own second placing in last year's World Junior (Under-24) Championships is testament to that - he originally finished fourth but was promoted two places after failed drugs tests.

Evidence there is still a problem at home is not hard to come by. There were 14 Sports Council tests with "irregularities" (positives or refusals) in powerlifting and weightlifting combined last year, including five positive tests for anabolic steroids. The Independent's survey shows 20 per cent of respondents have used steroids and 40 per cent think steroids are used. And even Bowring himself admits that the culture of the gym is drowning in drugs.

"There are gyms around where everyone takes drugs and that's why I don't go there. And in these gyms, there are bigger dealers than your average Joe who gets a bit of gear and sells it on. You've got guys who have a lot of gear and they push it. It's always the unspoken thing, but it's everywhere."

Powerlifting is competitive lifting for body builders and has three disciplines. Weightlifting is an Olympic sport with two disciplines. Both come under the jurisdiction of the British Amateur Weightlifting Association. Power- lifting's main image problem, said Bowring, is due to a split in his sport in 1989. According to him, lifters banned from BAWLA for drug use set up their own organisation, now called the British Powerlifting Congress, and the general public's perception of his sport is informed by that organisation (the BPC), which has no drug testing.

Brian Batcheldor, an ex-BAWLA lifter and now president of the BPC, said the split was nothing to do with drugs. He maintains it was because he and others lifted for a non-BAWLA association in South Africa, for which he was banned for life.

Whoever's version is most accurate, both agree drugs have been a problem in lifting. Batcheldor, for his part, admitted there is little testing in the BPC, but said he planned to introduce it as soon as money is available. "We are dealing with the matter in a different way from BAWLA," he said. "They have got an existing drug problem or else they wouldn't be catching people." He added: "Our testing will be for illegal substances such as amphetamines and stimulants. We're more concerned with social and health problems."

Batcheldor said he used steroids himself for 15 years, supplied by sympathetic doctors or the black market, and he had no ill effects, having liver screens done to ensure there were no problems. Of what he calls "the myth of steroids", he said: "It's a lie. People are not dying from these things." He added: "These medications help with excessive training work loads and the demands that are placed on them by the general public to perform.

"Everyone wants to see the biggest, the fastest and the strongest. And sporting ideals and competing for the sense of fair play all died when millions of pounds got tied up in sport." People like Dean Bowring, who makes nothing for his efforts, might beg to differ.

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