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How to stop the cheating in natural bodybuilding

No more second chances
No more second chances
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Cheating has been a part of every sport since the beginning of time, but nowhere is it more shrouded in secrecy than natural bodybuilding – a sport that touts the fact that it tests every competitor for performance-enhancing drugs but rarely, if ever, reveals the results of its testing. The cheaters have been allowed to perpetuate their dishonesty virtually unscathed for decades while the truly natural athletes suffer in relative anonymity for playing by the rules. How to end the cheating once and for all?

  • Reveal the names of the cheaters and expose them for what they are

Natural organizations boast that they catch cheaters all the time but - with the exception of the ABA/INBA/PNBA’s “Wall of Shame” - no one ever knows the identity of these cheaters. True, they may not be allowed to compete in contests sanctioned by that particular organization again, but with the proliferation of natural organizations, they simply bounce around from one organization to the next with impunity.

How many readers can count on one hand the names of any athletes who have failed a drug test in the past year? The past five years? The past 10 years? What is the point of testing if no one ever knows who the cheaters are or if someone has even cheated at all? It means they basically got away with it.

Sadly, there is so much distrust among the organizations that, even when they know some people have failed a drug test with another organization they still let them compete in their organization – this despite the fact that many of top organizations agreed to share positive test results with each other but don't.

The excuse most commonly proffered for not revealing the names of the cheaters is that the organizations are afraid of lawsuits by contestants. However, this doesn’t pass the smell test. Most of these organizations are non-profit corporations which limit any personal liability to the organization leaders, so what are they afraid of? And, they easily carry liability insurance to cover their rear ends and further safeguard their organizations. Moreover, each contestant signs a formidable liability waiver and, if the organizations are following the proper protocol with regard to their drug testing procedures, they should not have anything to worry about. If they are not following the proper protocol, that’s a different problem. It is expensive for contestants to sue for failed drug tests too, and cheaters, in particular, are not likely to follow through with the threat of lawsuits regardless of their loud protestations of their innocence. Organizations should not allow themselves to be bluffed by cheaters, but if they can’t - or aren't willing - to stand behind their test results, they should not be in the game.

Some organizations go so far as empathizing with cheaters by saying that they don’t want to humiliate people because of a positive drug test just because they made the wrong “choice.” Really? Why not? I don’t get it. That wrong “choice” has deprived a genuinely deserving natural bodybuilder from receiving his/her public recognition for playing by the rules.

If drug cheaters are not publicly exposed for their dishonesty, it only encourages them to cheat again – and for others to follow suit - because what they fear most is the public disgrace of what they have done – not the loss of their trophies.

  • Employ full polygraph testing

A “real” polygraph is up to 96% accurate (even more accurate than fingerprints), but the abbreviated version of the polygraph currently used by most natural organizations is merely a deterrent without any teeth. A real or full polygraph – even for a specific issue such as drug use – requires a minimum of 90 minutes according to the American Polygraph Association (APA), the leading polygraph organization in the world and can be admissible in court under APA guidelines. The “mini” version of the polygraph currently used in natural bodybuilding is absolutely not admissible in court under any circumstances and is commonly known as “chart rolling,” a derogatory term used by professional polygraph examiners to describe a one chart exam falsely professed to be a polygraph when, in fact, it is not.

Instead of subjecting every competitor to nonsensical “chart rolling,” (which is more likely to produce false positives anyway) why not test the place winners with a full polygraph after each contest to more accurately determine whether or not they are being deceptive about their use of banned substances? All competitors would continue to pay an individual drug testing fee (usually $40-$45) which would be pooled to offset the greater cost of the full polygraph for the place winners and ensure more reliable results for a level playing field. Yes, full polygraphs administered to place winners after each contest would be inconvenient for these contestants because they might have to stay over for an additional day before returning home, but inconvenience is a small price to pay to weed out potential cheaters and ensure the integrity of the results.

A full polygraph was mandated in 1985 by President Reagan as a condition of employment for all federal and civilian government workers. It is also required by almost every city, county, and state law enforcement agency, security companies, pharmaceutical distribution companies, and more. A full polygraph is also required by every state in the U.S. for paroled post-conviction sex offenders. In other words, contrary to naysayers who would disparage the legitimacy of the polygraph, the full polygraph is widely accepted and often admitted in court. What natural bodybuilding calls a polygraph is a poor substitute for the real thing and is NOT a polygraph.

Nevertheless, the polygraph is the only current means of drug testing that can determine whether or not a contestant has used performance-enhancing drugs within the required drug-free period (usually 5-7 years) of the respective organizations, so it can be a valuable tool in the arsenal to combat cheating. Perhaps, equally important, is that – unlike any other kind of testing – it provides relatively immediate results. But, cutting corners with chart rolling and calling it a polygraph just to say that everyone is being tested is drug testing under false pretenses essentially requiring contestants to pay for the illusion of legitimate drug testing.

  • Ban cheaters for life

I’m not sure where the 7-year ban came from for using PEDs and other banned substances. In the beginning of the natural movement more than 30 years ago, we started with a one-year ban to encourage more users to come clean because they did not have a previous natural option. Our intention was to gradually increase the length of the ban by at least one year in each succeeding year for five years before establishing a permanent lifetime ban. For some reason the ban maxed out at 7 years (some organizations use 5 years), and the lifetime ban was never realized. Why seven? Why not two? Why not ten? Fifteen? What is so sacrosanct about the number 7?

Why should anyone who uses performance enhancing drugs in violation of the rules ever be allowed to compete in a natural contest again anyway? My experience of more than 47 years in the fitness industry has taught me that if these people continue working out even after discontinuing their drug use, they will always maintain a certain advantage over the lifetime naturals. The only solution is a lifetime ban for a first offense. Period. Previous winners under the 7-year rule can be grandfathered in, but eventually every contestant will be subject to the same rules. If the penalty for cheating is severe enough – and permanent – it will greatly reduce the incentive to cheat in the first place and, in time, the sport can clean itself up. One and done. No second chances. Let them take their “choice” to the non-tested version of the sport where they will be welcomed with open arms.

Jim Evans is the founder of NANBA (now NANBF) and a member of the ABCC Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame and U.S. Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. He is also President of California Forensic Psychophysiology, Inc., a full-service polygraph firm operating out of San Diego.