Sports Medicine Experts Debate: Should Doping Be Allowed?
Most fans of running–or any sport, for that matter–agree that performance-enhancing drugs should be prohibited, and that dopers should be penalized when caught. But when pressed to say why, many of us would have a hard time defending that stand beyond “because it’s not right.”
In the British Medical Journal, sports medicine professionals have articulated their reasons for why they think doping should be allowed or banned. It’s an interesting debate regardless of where you stand on the issue.
Sport ethicist Julian Savulescu takes the view that doping should be allowed. For starters, says Savulescu, the current testing system has largely failed to deter or catch cheaters; he cites an estimate that the probability of detecting doping is 2.9%. That fact, combined with athletes butting up against the limits of human performance (in his estimation), makes use of performance-enhancing drugs inevitable.
Savulescu’s argument doesn’t consist entirely of what might seem like giving up the fight. Legalizing performance-enhancing drugs, he says, would allow for regulating them. This, in turn, would increase safety and lessen the risk to athletes who use them.
Savulescu also points out that opposing doping because it gives athletes an unfair advantage ignores the realities of modern sport. Many legal practices and devices, from sleeping in an altitude chamber to consuming sport drinks to taking anti-inflammatories, improve athletic performance, and are not only allowed, but encouraged by corporations and sport federations.
Two hospital physicians, Leon Creaney and Anna Vondy, take the opposing view.
They see doping as a moral rather than medical issue. If performance-enhancing drugs were allowed, they say, then it would soon be impossible to remain competitive without taking them, thereby eliminating from the pool of athletes people who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Rather than leveling the playing field, Creaney and Vondy argue, allowing doping would create a rich-get-richer situation, in which athletes with the resources to obtain the best drugs would increasingly prevail. This phenomenon could extend to the state level, they say, as some countries might finance a systematic doping program to boost national pride.
On a subjective level, ask Creaney and Vondy, would bioengineered athletes provide the inspiration that many look to sport for?
Regardless of where they stand, most experts agree that the current testing system is too underfunded and intermittent to meet its goal of promoting drug-free sport.