Denmark a hotbed of steroid use

The nation is a key player in the manufacture, sale and smuggling of doping agents, and the use of steroids in some fitness centres is an accepted part of the culture

There are fitness centres across the country where the use of doping agents like anabolic steroids and growth hormones is such an accepted part of the culture that the illegal substances are bought and sold openly inside the centres.

The prevalence of banned substances in Danish fitness centres is supported by both anonymous internet sources and the country's leading fitness researcher.

"There is typically a distribution, resale and organised recruitment network bringing together new potential clients inside these centres, " Kasper Lund Kirkegaard, a researcher for Danmarks Idræts-Forbund (DIF), the country's athletic association, told Politiken newspaper.

The environment inside the centres is such that clients shooting themselves up with steroids are generally left alone, and centres often choose to deny access to the watchdog group Anti Doping Denmark. Although the substances are illegal, police departments do not see them as a high priority.

"Doping is not an organised crime area that we are targeting," Steffen Steffensen, the commissioner of the Copenhagen Police, told Politiken.

As many as 44,000 Danes have admitted to using steroids, according to a study by the University of Southern Denmark. The exact number of centres acting as 'doping havens' is unclear. Kirkegaard said his research suggests that as many as 20 centres may be turning a blind eye to dopers. Contributors to various Internet forums estimate that there may be as many as 50 of the so-called 'iron caves' scattered around the country.

Iron caves are easily spotted. They often host racks of dumbbells weighing as much as 105 kilos, are open around the clock and allow access with a personal chip card. They do not get involved in members' personal choices regarding steroids, and the sale and use of banned substances are often conducted in plain sight.

"I have seen several athletes walking around with a syringe in their hand, and sales are not exactly hidden either," wrote one anonymous poster on

Kirkegaard said that the post is a reliable picture of the culture.

"Several sources from the fitness culture have told me that it is not unusual to find syringes in the toilets," he said.

The Temple Gym in Amager is one of the most notorious centres in the country. The facility is home to many members of the Danish bodybuilding elite, and is known throughout the bodybuilding culture as a place where members both make and sell steroids. Although many anonymous sources confirmed the rumours, the head of the centre, Bo Engving, rejected the accusations.

"We have lived with the rumours for years, but they are unfounded," he told Politiken. "A few years back we had a centre which catered to bikers and bodybuilders and had a few issues, but we have policed ourselves and tightened up the rules.”

Kirkegaard, however, wasn't buying it.

"Strict rules are not a characteristic of 'iron caves' that allow steroid use and opt out of visits by the anti-doping organisation," said Kirkegaard. "It is obvious that the police need to target these places."

The culture minister, Marianne Jelved (Radikale), agreed that doping at fitness centres should be a police issue.  The penalties for steroid use will increase in the autumn from two to six years, and Jelved said the higher penalties will inspire the police to take action

"The higher penalties give police better tools to address the problems of sales and purchases," she told Politiken.

The increased penalties bring Denmark in line with Norway and Sweden.

Meanwhile, two Danes are among those now charged in what is being called Europe's biggest doping case ever. Investigations by Swedish and Norwegian police into drug rings have revealed that Denmark plays a central role in smuggling banned substances into Norway and that steroid smugglers view Denmark as the preferred gateway to the other Scandinavian countries.

The two Danes are charged with involvement in the organised trade and smuggling of doping agents to Norway, and Norwegian police said that the Danes are part of a much larger network.

"They received pure doping powder, which they forwarded, smuggled or stored for some of the major players in this case," Per Martin Utkilen, chief prosecutor in the Sør-Trøndelag police district in Norway and lead investigator into the case, said in a press release. "Finished drugs were also sent from Denmark into Norway."

More than 100 people are accused of being part of the Norwegian doping ring, which has had a turnover of more than 100 million kroner over the past seven years.

Utkilen said the smugglers used Denmark because of the country's relatively lax laws surrounding steroids.

The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), chose not to comment on the specific case, pointing only to the plan to strengthen penalties in the autumn.

In addition to the two Danes that have already been charged, Norwegian investigators are said to have in their sites another group of Danes who had what police called "more central roles" in the smuggling operation.

The Danes currently accused were charged after police seized emails showing that they were to take several kilos of pure steroids from Asia and smuggle it into Norway. One kilo of pure steroids costs just 20,000 kroner and can be turned into approximately 200,000 pills or thousands of ampoules of drugs dissolved in oils that bring in up to one million kroner on the black market. The profit margin with steroids is typically higher than that in the illegal heroin and cocaine trade.