Morality of Doping

October 2, 2013


By James Wegener – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

First off, I would like to just state that I am not advocating for doping in sports. Rather, the philosopher in me wants to explore this issue and consider the reasons for how the anti-doping rules came to be. When we talk about doping we are not really thinking about illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana – aside from cases like Ross Rebagliati. Rather, the prohibited list includes readily available pharmaceutical drugs, steroids, stimulants, human growth hormone, and sundry others. So how is it that these drugs, which can be taken legally in many circumstances, are banned in sports? And should they be?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) states that doping goes against “the spirit of sport” – that is, the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind. They list many characterizations of this, such as equality and fair play, character and ethics, health and excellence in performance. Somewhere in this list must lie the rationale for banning an increasingly growing set of performance enhancing drugs.

Fair play is an interesting point. On one hand, doping may give those taking performance enhancing drugs an athletic advantage over those who are not. It doesn’t create a level playing field. But on the other hand, if doping was allowed wouldn’t all athletes have the opportunity to take these drugs? It doesn’t make sense to say that doping is bad because it’s against the rules. Essentially all that is saying is it is against the rules because it is against the rules. This line of argument may explain why you shouldn’t dope in sports, but not the reason, not how these rules came about.

If equality is what we are looking for, then why not a league full of dopers? Requiring every athlete to dope up is extreme, and faces its own legal inquiry, but that is not what is needed for equality. Equality in sports certainly does not mean take a group of athletes that are all the same and see who comes out on top. No one is going to say that all athletes are equal. There are those like Tiger Woods and Sidney Crosby that are among the elite of the elite. They are at the top of their game, they are better than the vast majority of their peers. Rather, equality refers to equal opportunity or equal chance. Every player has the opportunity to be among the best in their sport. Of course, few will achieve this, while most will not. But if this is equality then why not open up doping to all athletes, not just those who cheat the rules? Would this not maintain the equal opportunity? Maybe it’s the rules that create an inequality as doping athletes continue to find new ways to mask results in tests, or find new performing enhancing drugs that aren’t yet banned.

If what we are looking for is excellence, then why not let performance enhancing drugs in the picture? Excellence is being the best you can be, pushing limits, and striving for greatness. When the list of dopers includes Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriquez and Ben Johnson it’s hard to say that doping excludes excellence. Perhaps it is this very principle of excellence that leads to doping in the first place. Athletes are striving to be the best and doping gives them a route to achieve this goal. That is, unless you are going to say that you can’t have excellence with doping. If this is the case, then please return to the prior paragraph on fair play.

Undoubtedly, there are health risks that accompany performance enhancing drugs. But it is also true that many sports carry their own health risks anyways. How many athletes require shoulder surgery or work done on their knees? How many athletes retire at an early age due to health problems? These kind of scenarios are not uncommon. Being an athlete mandates a harsh level of wear and tear and stress, and all the effects that follow from that. How can we say that this type of damage and health risk is okay in the name of sport, but not doping in the name of sport?

Now, I am not unaware of the holes in many of my arguments. Someone could use the same type of argument I just used to try and justify no helmets in the National Hockey League – and just the same, it would be a poor argument. My point is that there are a lot of reasons given for why doping should not be, and is not, allowed in sports.But when you really examine it, it really seems like there is only one dominating reason for why doping is banned: it’s immoral.

Morality and social norms tell us that doping is bad and shouldn’t be allowed. It is the idea of ethics, character, and being a proper role model that leads us to this conclusion. We don’t want people thinking that they need to dope up to achieve greatness, in athletics or in any other field. We don’t want athletes to have to destroy their bodies even more in the name of sport and entertainment – and maybe even these points are debatable. The bottom line is, morality is the dominant force behind these anti-doping rules. I’m sure wonderful debate could go on about whether this is appropriate or not, but that is for another discussion.

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One Comment on “Morality of Doping”

  1. Franz Fuls Says:

    Like your post! I feel that sport (as we know it today) should remain drug free.

    However, I don’t see a problem with a ‘dope’ league in athletics for instance – allow these athletes to take everything and anything that they feel can improve their performance. I can’t wait to see the post race interview with a winning athlete while under a borderline overdose of a cocktail including adrenaline, speed, ephedrine and a few others! Some conditions though: it must be self induced, voluntary, and under 12s are banned from partaking.


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