In March this year, the BBC ran some worrying statistics on the scale of doping in amateur sports. They found more than a third (35 percent) of amateur sports people across Britain say they personally know someone who has doped. As concerning, half said performance-enhancing substance use was ‘widespread’ among competitive sportsmen and women.
If a consumer wants to find performance-enhancing substances to illegally get an edge over the competition, even in a Sunday cycle race with little at stake, then three things are obvious. First, the consumer won’t find them on the shelves of major sports nutrition retailers, on major sports nutrition e-commerce sites, or carrying the label of either the big or specialist sports nutrition brands. Second, despite this, the determined consumer will obtain illegal products anyway—and third, the reputation of the responsible sports nutrition industry will suffer.
Responsible retailers will not sell products that contain sufficient amounts of banned substances (for example, those that appear on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list). Substances are banned for good reason, often because they put consumers’ health at risk. Yet in the barely-policed jungle that is the internet, ordinary men and women who want to cheat can easily obtain products helping them to do so.
This is clearly a threat to the mainstream sports nutrition sector. For too many people, sports nutrition is inextricably linked with doping and such attitudes filter to those sitting in Government Ministries and Parliaments that decide the industry’s legal framework Unless something is done, perfectly blameless companies selling effective, safe products will be swept up in legislative over-reaction.
The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) recognises the industry needs to take the lead in differentiating the healthy, booming reputable sports nutrition industry from the cowboys who don’t care what they sell and to whom. A multi-pronged approach to the problem is needed; firstly, ESSNA works closely with enforcement bodies, regulators and anti-doping organisations across the EU. Meeting regularly, ESSNA highlights particularly egregious offenders, and helps design public education campaigns.
Secondly, ESSNA communicates directly with consumers; working with media outlets across the EU to make sure that people know what to look for when they’re buying sports nutrition products—and what to avoid.
Finally, ESSNA seeks to harness the expertise of their fifty members and develop best practice to help those sports nutrition companies who seek to be responsible corporate citizens. As an example, a step-by-step guide has just been released to help ESSNA members avoid inadvertently contaminating their products with a banned substance.
The sports nutrition industry has grown dramatically in recent years, and with that comes new threats and new scrutiny. ESSNA has responded to this with clear, proactive steps all designed with one thing in mind—protecting the consumer.
Adam Carey, M.D., Ph.D., is the chair of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA).