Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sport is in a state – why has drug use become such a major issue?

By Simon Rea

As someone who has been involved competing in sport, working in sport and watching sport all my life I have become increasingly concerned about the negative reports about its association with drug use.

Image courtesy of sscreations at

Image courtesy of sscreations at

Team Sky has had a particularly bad couple of weeks with speculation over the contents of a ‘mystery package’ that was sent to Bradley Wiggins in 2011 added to by revelations that ex-Team Sky rider, Josh Edmondson, had been using a pain killer, Tramadol, and injecting vitamins in 2013 and 2014. Although vitamins are not a banned substance it is contrary to the policy brought in by the cyclist’s union, UCI, in 2011 that banned cyclists from the use of needles.

Added to this is the revelation that US anti-doping agency (USADA) are investigating whether any rules were broken when Mo Farah was injected with a legal protein supplement, L-carnitine, by Dr. Robin Chakraverty. These two incidences are interesting because neither is illegal as the substances are not banned but they are considered as dubious or underhand practices that contravene the spirit of sport. In particular, it is the use of needles seems to cross the line between acceptable and unacceptable practices for professional sports people.

However, top level sport in the UK seems to have a relatively minor doping problem. According to UK anti-doping (UKAD) there are currently 52 athletes or coaches banned due to the use of illegal substances and only 12% of these are involved in professional sport. Most banned athletes are involved in amateur sports (62%) or semi-professional sports (21%). A BBC poll (BBC, 2017) showed that 35% of amateur sports people know someone who has used drugs and 8% said they had personally taken steroids.

The use of drugs is a major problem because as well as being cheating they can have devastating side effects, such as heart conditions and liver failure, that are ignored in favour of their benefits. Also, as they become more prevalent people will start to adopt the dangerous attitude that ‘they are only doing what everyone else is doing’.

Which substances are being used and why are they being taken?

The BBC poll showed three motives for drug use with 41% saying they took drugs to improve performance, 40% for pain relief and 34% to improve how they look. This fits in well with the three categories of substance most commonly used. Anabolic steroids, such as nandrolone and stanozolol, mimic the hormone testosterone and promote muscle development that can enhance performance or improve the perception of an individual’s body image. Semi-professional and amateur rugby union and league have a particular issue with anabolic steroids as success is increasingly allied to strength and bulk. These sports have accounted for 46% of the sanctions issued by UKAD (BBC, 2017).

Stimulants, such as amphetamines and ephedrine, are taken to reduce fatigue and allow an athlete to compete at maximum intensity for longer thus enhancing performance. They also create a ‘fat burning effect’ which can be desirable for those wanting to improve their appearance. Narcotic analgesics, such as morphine and pethidine, act as painkillers and can mask the effect of injuries and allow athletes to train harder and longer. Tramadol has a similar effect but is an opioid rather than a narcotic.

The motives for drug use are clear but there are two main factors that are contributing to its growth.

Firstly, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality or what Team Sky described as a ‘medallist’ culture. This can lead to athlete welfare being compromised at the expense of ensuring they are successful. The song ‘We are the champions’ which was played during the ceremony as Manchester United were recently presented with the EFL Cup has the line ‘No time for losers ‘cause we are the champions’ exemplifying attitudes to success and failure. Possibly a dubious message to send to our children.

Secondly, the obsession with body image and pressure to conform to stereotypes of male and female beauty. This is often media driven through images in fitness magazines and increasingly training seems to be about attaining an attractive physique rather than gaining health benefits. Indeed, the practices of training for health and training for body image are often at odds with each other as steroids are used to build muscle and stimulants to promote fat burning. The psychological condition ‘bigorexia’ where muscular people see themselves as having physical flaws or not being muscular enough has become as much of a concern as anorexia where people see themselves as being overweight irrespective of their actual appearance.

Is sharing negative experiences of drug users a solution?

Nicola Sapstead, the head of UKAD, has described drug use in UK sport as ‘fast becoming a crisis’ but it is possible that a potential solution is already available. On the BBC 5live phone on 20th March there was a steady stream of people who had used drugs describing the damaging long-term consequences of drug use’ with one male gym user who had to have to surgery to remove excess breast tissue that had developed due to the increase in oestrogen levels caused by steroids.

Creating effective education programmes and showing people that despite what they may experience many athletes, such as Jess Ennis-Hill, experience success without taking supplements or resorting to dangerous practices.

BBC Sport (2017) ‘Doping in sport: Drug use ‘fast becoming a crisis’ – Nicole Sapstead [online]. Available at: (accessed 21st March 2017)

Waddington, I. and Smith, A. (2009). An Introduction to Drugs in Sport: Addicted to winning? Abingdon, Routledge.

Cheating in sport and the issues surrounding drug use are covered in our new module E117 that will be available from October 2017. For more information visit the Study with us section of this website.


Volunteering opportunities with the Great Run Company

We’ve been looking for a way for OU Sport and Fitness students to develop their experience and CVs to help their career development and have partnered up with the Great Run Company to provide some unique TV Production/Course Operations opportunities in their mass participation event portfolio in Manchester, the Lake District, London or Bristol. To see how these volunteering opportunities may be useful to you take a look at the short video below. The Further Information Sheet tells you more about the events, volunteering roles and answers frequently asked questions.


If you would like to apply please complete the Expression of Interest form below and send it to the email address on the form. But hurry, the events in the north of England need applications in by April 4th or 11th (the other dates are later).

The Great Run Company – Expression of Interest


Student Story: Allana Francis-Ashmeil

Allana Francis-Ashmeil imageAfter an up and down start with her education, Allana Francis-Ashmeil had given up the hope of gaining higher education qualifications. She had a strong passion for sport, especially football and wanted to be able to continue her coaching job in the sports field whilst also pursuing her career further. Allana was told about the OU by her mum and although she had her reservations she signed up for the Foundation degree in Sport and Fitness. Whilst studying for her degree it was necessary for Allana to gain some other qualifications along the way including her level 2 coaching badge. Allana claims her OU studies gave her a massive confidence boost, so much so that alongside her studies she also started her own business, STL (Sky’s the Limit) London which encourages young people in her community to achieve their dreams.

“After a very up and down road with education, including learning I was dyslexic and failing my first year of university at Canterbury Christ Church University, I had given up hope of gaining a higher education qualification. I was convinced university wasn’t for me. I have always had a strong passion for sports, especially football. I am currently playing and am vice-captain of AFC Wimbledon Ladies Reserve Team.

I wanted to be able to continue to work in my sporting field but also pursue my career as a sports coach as well as follow other ideas I had pending for my future.

When studying the sport and fitness with coaching degree it was compulsory to have a level 2 coaching certificate. Prior to the OU I never had any interest in coaching badges, but I am now a level 2 coach and I am looking to do my level 3 next year. The value it added to my CV is evident as I am now a full time P.E and Sports teacher at a prep school in South London. Having coaching badges and a degree has enhanced the experience I have in sports by a great amount.Allana 1

I ensured my job accommodated the fact that I was studying. Working as a sports coach meant I had regular mornings and weekends to get my studying and wok done. I would dedicate at least 3 days a week to university work. I also made sure my employers were aware of my studies this was important as it made sure I wasn’t overloaded with work hours.

The OU has taught me time management, organisation, patience and persistence. These are lifelong skills that are going to stay with me in all aspects of life and my career. The OU experience taught me that anything is possible and no matter who you are or where you’re from your dreams are achievable.Allana 2

I have always had a love for the arts. When I was younger I was a student at Italia Conti studying Musical Production. As well as sports and the arts I also love working with children and young people. In November 2012 I landed the opportunity to work in a year in Ernest Bevin College, an all boys secondary school, alongside studying my apprenticeship for a CASHE Teaching Diploma. I worked in the Performing Arts Department at Ernest Bevin College, as I already had a personal love for the subject it fuelled the passion even more.

I was offered the opportunity to work on a solo project with students of my choice. I decided to write, produce, direct and choreograph a play that incorporated dance. The production was entitled ‘The block’ which focused on a group of friends at a crossroads in their lives as they were leaving college and becoming young adults. I casted nineteen boys aged between 13 and 15 and the play was performed to a public audience of fifty. It was a huge success and raised over £100 for Trail Blaizers, a charity I chose, who work with young offenders bettering their lives. We were fortunate enough to have the chief executive of the company present in the audience; she gave a public speech and also had a 1 to 1 session with the cast, discussing what the charity does and how their raised funds would help. 

The amount of positive feedback I received pushed me to start my own company that provided a platform for children and young people in the community who held a passion and talent in the performing arts industry. The company would provide workshops, events and showcases for young people to be a part of, building on their confidence, self-worth and involving the community in the generation of the future. 

In October 2013 I went to a Bright Ideas Trust Event, this company is founded by Tim Campbell OBE, the first winner of Lord Alan Sugar’s ‘The Apprentice’. This event was aimed at young entrepreneurs to meet like-minded people. I met Tim Campbell and had the chance to network with a lot of business people. I was shortlisted to pitch my business idea to Margaret Mountford, the chairman of the company, who is also a close friend and employee of Alan Sugar. A week after the event I was contacted by Bright Ideas Trust informing me that Margaret Mountford had loved my business idea and put it forward to the company for them to invest in my idea. Bright ideas Trust then put me through a 3 stage process where I had to complete a business plan, cash forecast and pitch on two different occasions to executives and the start-up business loan team. After 3 weeks I was successful and approved of the loan amount I requested. I am now part of the Bright Idea’s Trust’s successful candidate team. 

My company is called STL London. STL stands for Sky’s The Limit, which is the slogan enforced in all the children and young people the company comes in contact with. Our first event was in November 2013, after the disaster of the Typhoon, the company played its part by raising funds for a children’s charity.  STL London and 7 young people aged 8 – 14 went to Southbank London and performed dance routines and freestyle performances. In under 3 hours we raised £360 for the children in the Philippines and the money was donated to UNICEF, who donated balloons, t-shirts and a collection bucket to the company for the event. It was a great success and the positivity it had on the children who took part was amazing, they realised that their talents can be used to help others as well as themselves. The community response was amazing and we received many compliments and comments throughout the event.

The next event was Centre Stage, this is STL London’s regular showcase which occurs at least once a year. These showcases are open to young people aged 5 – 21 years who have a talent for singing, rapping, dancing, poetry, comedy or performing. It is a public event which is open to the community to engage them in youth talent. It also is a platform for young people to express themselves positively enhancing the talents and gifts they process, enabling them to have a feeling of self-worth and importance. The first Centre Stage Showcase took place on January 11th 2014. We had over 13 acts who performed on the night. It was also the official launch of the company. The show was a huge success and has attracted the attention of many. It also featured in the Wandsworth Bright Side Magazine. Since then we have had 2 more shows and I am currently planning another one for next year.

I am very passionate about STL London reaching out to more children and young people. Next year I am planning a few new projects that will focus on encouraging more children and young people to pursue their dreams.  

I want to finish by thanking The OU for what they have done for me. I will always speak highly and proudly of this institution and I would love to be a voice that encourages people, who like me never thought they could, that taking this journey will be the best thing they could ever do.”Allana 3

If you have been inspired by Allana’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.

Student Story: James Collins

CAS000485_highres_0James Collins intended to go to university to study Leisure and Tourism, however, when he the opportunity to be a model he thought he’s take a year out and give that a go. That year turned into many years and eventually James decided that he needed to plan for when his modelling career would come to an end. He had originally wanted to study something in Sports the first time around, so, after completing a personal training certificate, decided to enrol with the OU to study Sport, Fitness and Coaching. James studied full time around his modelling work, which meant he had to be able to complete his OU studies whilst travelling around the world! Three years later and James completed his degree achieving a First Class. He is now studying for his Masters with Middlesex University with a focus on strength and conditioning. In the future, James is aiming to work in an academy or with athletes training them on strength and conditioning. He’s also considering a PhD!

“I completed my GCSE’s and GNVQ back in the day and finished that in 2001. The intention was that I was going to go to Birmingham University to study Leisure and Tourism. Back when I was applying to university there weren’t that many degrees in sport related subjects apart from Physical Education. I wasn’t the best student in my teenage years, so I didn’t get the grades to be able to do that at the time, which was why I was going to do Leisure and Tourism – I’m not really sure what I would have done with that though.

But before I started with Birmingham University I got an opportunity somehow to be a model. So I thought I’d give that a go and take a year out. That year, however, turned into many, many years and I did that all through my 20’s. I was very lucky to be able to travel the world doing it – New York, Paris and Milan, but I got to the point where I was tired of not using my brain, and I knew that eventually it would come to an end and I needed to start thinking of the future. I took a personal training certification to see if I could learn again as it had been so long and I passed that so then decided to give the OU a go. I needed to be able to study alongside modelling and travelling as I couldn’t just be based in London or anything like that.

JamesCollins1When I started my OU studies it was a nice shock to the system! I decided to complete my studies full time, so I did it in 3 years. I was able to still travel around for work and just take my books and my laptop with me. I did my tutorials here, there and everywhere and it actually went very well. Somehow I managed to get a first class grade!

I think everybody knows the OU. You grow up seeing the videos on BBC 1 and 2 at night and I just one day decided to have a look to see if there was anything sport related available and was quite surprised to see that there was. As part of the sports degree with the OU there was personal training experience so that seemed to fit perfectly and that’s why I chose that degree with the OU.

There were a couple of challenging elements for me. I was doing it full time and there was a lot of reading that you had to do, especially around Christmas. In the curriculum you have the Christmas period off, but I found that’s where I caught up so that was really busy for me. Also, at a regular university you have your teacher with you every week and you can ask them questions face to face, whereas with the OU you sometimes have just one tutorial and you have you ask your questions by email which can mean you have to wait a while to get a reply. Doing exams in handwriting was brutal. I was used to doing it all on a laptop and my hand was in agony. Whilst studying I was always travelling for work, so I was having to deal with everything that comes with that, including working out of different times zones and jet lag. I was always having these big events to deal with too. However, because of the type of study I was able to take my books and materials with me to be able to study whilst travelling.

JamesCollins2I found having the online tutorials really helpful because you could go back and listen as many times as you liked. Whereas now in my lectures for my masters I record them on my phone and hope that will work every time so that I can go back and listen to them like I did at the OU. Being able to do that is super, super helpful!

Because I was doing it full time, every month I’d have 2 assignments due in so I’d give myself two weeks to get the assignment done. The first week, I would make sure I got all of the reading done and in the second week I would write my assignment even if it didn’t have to be in for a couple of weeks and I would just stick to that routine. If I had a ton of reading to do then I would just do it on the weekends.

When I first started my OU studies, the original plan was that I was going to be a PE teacher. I was intended to follow up my OU studies with teacher training. But the first year went really well and I just started to have a look around at what other jobs there was in sports that I could do. I decided to go down the strength and conditioning route and then I found a Masters course at Middlesex University that I thought would be good and so I started to just aim for that instead. My current plan is to complete my masters in Strength and Conditioning and then start applying for roles working at an academy or with athletes coaching on strength and conditioning. I’m also just debating whether to do a PhD alongside that too!

My advice to anyone considering an OU course would be to just stay on top of the reading and try to have a strict timetable that you stick to, because it’s very easy to get behind, especially with holidays or big events in your life. Also I would say to ask your tutors anything you’re not sure about – I was really bad with emailing them, but they are there to help you and they may even give you the answer without realising it!

I would definitely recommend the OU because you don’t need to have a certain level of grade to enter, so if you did poor at school when you were younger and want to get back into it, you can give it a try. You’re able to earn money and get a degree at the same time. Also, if you can’t get to a regular university, or are restricted by your location, then it’s perfect. I think it’s brilliant!

I graduated in 2016 and the whole day was great – it was everything I thought it would be. It was good to be able to see other students graduating too. The whole experience is obviously quite different to a regular university because you don’t know anyone else, so it’s just you and your little family. But I loved it.”

If you want to follow in James’ footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.