No, Doping In Sports Should Not Be Legalised.
Some intellectual sports writers such as Matthew Syed, Malcolm Gladwell and famed non-sports philosophers such as ethicist Peter Singer, have tried to take what they appear to see as a progressive and practical common-sense stance on why we should should legalise all drugs in sport, and just be done with it. Their reasoning is based upon the idea people have genetic and environmental advantages anyway, so drugs just “level the playing field” and that it would make sports ‘fairer’.
Where to start.
Maybe to some their arguments can seem, at least on the surface, logical. I think they are so wrong in so many ways they seem unaware of, or at least don’t acknowledge.
What Is The Point Of Sport?
The first question to ask, and to recognise sport as a thing with rules and limits. That’s what gives it meaning. Without rules and limits, sport is not only not sport, but not fun. We don’t want to watch Usain Bolt break the world record with a 10 miles per hour head wind, or wearing roller-skates (OK, maybe) we all understand there has to be limits to something like this otherwise it’s all just meaningless. We also don’t want to watch the Tour de France with cyclists with motors on their bikes.
This is what fans have decided, not academics or sports writers, but I think we should follow how fans feel on this issue first, and the overwhelming majority are instinctively against doping in sport. This is how fans find entertainment in watching and doing sports. Fans value the values in sport. They don’t particularly value the advances in technology that can help athletes be better, certainly not above natural talents mixed with hard work and practice.
I think you’d have a truly hard task getting kids to understand the spirit of sports and the positive coincidences of competition in a world where all types of drugs to improve performance were being taken by the pro athletes. Not only is a a terrible example on how to succeed, the very nature of doping blurs the lines of what in fact a sport actually is. No longer do you need to toil in its limits, but you can somehow cheat them when you get older, if you want or need too. And in such a world, you would definitely need too.
The Practicalities Of Allowing Drugs.
Away from the ethical and spiritual considerations, one thing the likes of Syed and Singer haven’t even acknowledged is that if you legalised all forms of doping in sports the practical consequences in reality would be unthinkable.
It would lead to a Drugs ‘Nuclear Arms Race’. Sport would become a farcical oneupmanship of who can outdo the next guy with the newest most radical drug. It would lead to a sporting world where success would lie in who can afford the best medical team, dodgiest doctor, and the best drug set. Let’s not forget how expensive doping is. Doping Tour cyclists have been known to spend over £100,000 in a season on drugs alone.
We’d also have thousands of our best athletes taking their chances on whatever the latest round of multiple drugs are thrown at them without the slightest knowledge of what health risks it might bring in the near or distant future. It would be chaos.
Not All Professional Sportsman Want To Take Drugs.
Somehow, this point is missing from the pro-doping arguments. Many, if not most professional and elite athletes do not want to ingest drugs, or in the free for all drug world presented, have to, dope. Legalise doping, you would now have to take drugs, potentially dangerous ones, simply to keep up with the bad apples who do.
The Pro-Doping Argument That Drugs Simply ‘Level The Playing-Field’.
This is one of the most common arguments, one that Peter Singer lent his name too. Oxford Bio-Ethics professor Julian Savulescu argues “that now, those without drugs have an unfair advantage due to their genes”. Or that athletes born at altitude for example, have stronger lungs for running distances.
My basic answer to this is: Yes, people are very different. Sport has always dealt with this magnificently well. In fact, that’s a major part in what has always made sport great to watch, and incredibly entertaining. I think it’s something the professors might be missing. Imagine stories like Leicester City this season, it would have little emotional resonance if they were just some also-rans who doped their way to the title better than any other team.
People overcoming perceived or conventional disadvantages in their sport has been always been an important theme in sport. Creatively finding a way to skillfully beat the next guy is a crucial element in improvement and progression of a sport. It’s what makes the great sportsmen and women. It’s often the battle and the struggle that engages both the audience and the competitor. It’s often what fuels our determination, fuels us to improve, become more skillful, or more intelligent with what we’re doing. This is not just true in individual sport, but in team sport too. Team sports are full of stories of underdogs finding a way to win against the odds, whether they were out matched physically or skillfully.
In The End.
Sport is about entertainment, integrity and limits, and if you legalise doping you will take much of that away. Yes, people are different — so what. People watching and doing, do actually want more out of sports that what drugs provide. Including the elite ones. Drugs in sport largely defeat the purpose of learning, practicing and developing. I believe they would also go a large way, if not all the way, to removing that.