Should doping athletes be allowed to return to sports?

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Sportsmen and women are held in high regard in society. Given the chance for glory, recognition, and wealth, people will do anything to succeed in their chosen discipline. For some, this means breaking the rules by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The question is, after they’re caught, should they have the chance to return or is a lifetime ban the only way to deal with the problem?

This issue is nothing new

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Athletes have been using drugs and performance-enhancements ever since sports have existed. While our ancestors were not as scientifically advanced as modern dopers are, it still happened. During the ancient Olympic Games, competitors would adopt certain diets or imbibe ‘potions’ in an attempt to improve their abilities.

In more recent times, drugs have been regularly used in many sports by participants. Cyclists in the 1860s used caffeine or sugar mixed with ether, the Olympic marathon runner Thomas Hicks used brandy and strychnine in 1904, and the 1960s brought anabolic steroids onto the scene. Nowadays, competitors use designer drugs to get around tests for banned substances.

A 1972 questionnaire showed just how prevalent drugging was. Out of the year’s Olympics competitors, 68% admitted to steroid use (while 50% morally approved of it) and 61% said they weren't difficult to get hold of.

From weightlifting to baseball, few sports have been untouched by doping. It’s easy to see why it has become commonplace. Sportspeople and their trainers are highly dedicated and focused people. Winning is their ultimate goal, so what choice do they have if they know a rival is doping?

It’s easy to moralize the choice as a response to someone else’s decision. It’s a way of re-levelling the playing field, which quickly turns into an arms race that engulfs entire sports. Before long, doping becomes the norm, and in order to achieve any success, newcomers have to start taking enhancements as well.

Is it actually a problem?

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According to this poll, the public is nearly split down the middle on the issue of performance enhancing drugs. Another survey found that 51% of the American public said the past use of drugs make the Olympics less enjoyable, while at the same time 72% said doping would always be part of sport.

The picture is not perfectly clear, but more people than not see doping as a problem that needs to be solved. This is never more clear than when a doping athlete — like Linford Christie or Lance Armstrong — is uncovered. They soon reach near-pariah status and they lose esteem in the eyes of the public.

There are some who argue that some enhancements should be permitted, either out of safety or because they simply don’t need to be banned at all. In the end though, most would agree that a person should excel in their sport based on training and skill alone. These arguments don’t even take into account the negative aspects that arise from condoning drug use.

While the line between diet and drug is fuzzy — substances like creatine and caffeine are not banned — allowing more substances to be used seems like the wrong direction to take.

Should disgraced athletes be allowed to return?

Lance Armstrong (Source)

Banning an athlete is ultimately the harshest punishment a sport’s governing body can enact. But in the end it’s appropriate. Performance-enhancing drugs give people an unfair advantage and must be removed. Furthermore, lifetime bans are not necessary — fixed length bans can give offenders time to rehabilitate themselves and show that they are clean and ready to return to their chosen sport.

This is simply common sense. Just because someone does something wrong doesn't mean they deserve to be punished forever. There’s nothing wrong with giving people a second chance if they’re willing to redeem themselves. But should this apply to sports?

Why shouldn't it? If you can prove that you've turned over a new leaf, there’s no reason that you shouldn't be allowed to compete again. It’s worth considering performing extra drug tests on violators, both to discourage their return to drug use and to put non-dopers at ease.

Having athletes show they can redeem themselves sets a great example. If they’re willing to accept their wrongdoing, show regret, and change their ways, there shouldn't be anything to stop them competing once again.