We’ve been talking about doping in class quite a bit. Last year I did some extra readings for a philosophy course and stumbled upon an article written by an ethicist who supported doping. While I forget his name (sorry, ethicist guy), his basic argument was that we are born with a huge range of genetic characteristics, but doping represents a way to limit these genetic keys to athletic success by providing everybody with the same advantages. This would place increased emphasis on training quality as a determinant for success rather than genetics.
I’m still not quite sure whether I agree with this argument, but I think it’s interesting to consider. Much of the literature and public opinion is heavily weighted against doping, and it feels almost strange to listen to someone promoting it. There are definitely aspects of truly unlimited doping I’m highly opposed to. For example, anabolic steroids have been shown to lead to a variety of health problems later in life. If a culture is created where athletes in some sports are virtually forced to take large amounts of anabolic steroids in order to remain competitive, it would obviously be problematic. A counter-argument would be that athletes should be allowed to do what they want with their own bodies, and attempting to stop them would be no different than telling a smoker that they weren’t allowed to smoke anymore. But I think that this train of thought doesn’t really hold water simply because encouraging a lifestyle that prioritizes short-term athletic prowess at the expense of health and safety is fundamentally flawed. Sports, especially contact sports, already have their share of risk involved, but I think there should be an attempt to keep them as minimal as possible. The NFL is slowly beginning to realize that traumatic brain injury is a thing that exists, and I think that anybody who isn’t insane would support movements that attempt to negate it.
On the other hand, I think that my ethicist friend would actively support ergogenic aids that do not endanger health. After all, the ‘war’ on doping is all but lost as this point due to an absence of reliable testing, with accusations flying at almost every highly successful athletes (in the track world, just about every 100m finalist in at least the last four Olympic games has had allegations against them). Furthermore, plenty of supplements availible right now already blur the line between nutrition and doping. Even training regimes are suspect. Mo Farah, the most recent 10k gold medal winner, trains with an underwater treadmill and a cryogenic chamber which is cooled to -140C to aid muscle recovery. The key difference is that these strategies are safe and openly talked about, while drugs remain a far more secret affair. If there were a way to bring them out in the light, attempt to educate athletes about dangers and ensure and enforce safe use, I think I could support doping. Obviously that’s asking a lot, but as drug doping becomes more commonplace and gene doping moves to enter the picture, it might become a legitimate option. Athletes don’t exist in a vacuum and obviously regulating ergogenic aids can only go so far in providing every athlete with fair conditions, but pushing towards transparency and legalizeation could shift the focus around an athlete’s success back to training, work ethic and strategy and away from freak genetics and being big, dirty cheaters.