Is it time to Legalize Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Is it time to Legalize Performance Enhancing Drugs

When asked “When you raced, was it possible to perform without doping?” Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times, replied “That depends on which race you wanted to win. The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping.” Everyone yearns to perform better – whether at school, at work, or out on the field – whatever it may take. Sports is a global business which follows a parallel trend. Sportsmen are doing everything it takes to train and perform better – including the use or abuse of the currently banned performance enhancing drugs or PEDs. The highly criticized practice of doping in sports has undermined its benefits to the players and the sports industry in general. Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) should be considered ethical in the realm of sports where the performance of athletes is the core factor in determining their fortune and paving the path to their dream careers. The legalization of performance enhancing drugs will help the players recover and suppress their physical strain, provide a level playing field for the contestants, and aid the sports industry by conserving resources expended in futile anti-doping legislation.

PEDs are substances that enhance performance. They are usually associated with anabolic steroids but also include a wide array of other substances such as human growth hormone (HGH), stimulants and diuretics (Fogel, 2012). Global Anti-Doping organizations and sporting agencies have banned the use of PEDs in order to maintain a level playing field. However, some of the facts and opinions support the legalization of PEDs and depict it as ethical.

Performance enhancing drugs help players cope with injuries and recover better. The aggressive nature of games often result in players encountering physical strain of some form which can often take time to heal. PEDs expedite the recovery rate of injuries and get the players ready for their next game. Fogel (2012) asserts that PEDs push athletes even further which boosts their reaction times, strength and helps them recover from serious injuries at a faster pace. In other words, PEDs can help players diminish their pain and injuries caused by the intrinsic nature of sports and help them recuperate faster. Additionally, PEDs can improve the response and reaction times which can help players avoid the mishaps leading to injuries in the first place. Kayser (2005) affirms the fact that even without taking drugs, sportsmen undergo a lot of physical strain and injuries. In football, for instance, interviews with football players and facts suggest that players who don’t consume PEDs undergo more harm than those who do (Fogel, 2012). Players who abstain from consuming PEDs claim to be weaker than the players who do and hence they are more prone to the risk of physical strains. The fact that PEDs can boost players’ strength to recover and the fact that PEDs help players suppress pain apparently outweighs its disadvantages. Overall, if legalized, PEDs would prevent injuries and help the players recover at a faster pace.

Another reason why PEDs should be considered ethical is because they level the playing field and aid the spirit of sport. A level playing field is where all the players should have an equal opportunity to win. That often does not happen in sports due the unequal intrinsic strength of the players. According to Kayser (2005) – we often fail to consider environmental factors as well as genetic factors related to athletes that could be an apparent difference that helps one athlete perform better over the other. In other words, some of the players who are genetically strong already have an advantage in the game. For instance, Savulescu, Foddy and Clayton (2004) talk about Black Africans having an advantage in sports due to their superior physique and tact bone structure. They imply that PEDs can in fact help the genetically inferior players to stand at par with the players who have an inborn advantage and provides a fair game for all contestants. This notion brings in a new perspective which portrays performance enhancing drugs as a method of promoting equality on the field – eliminating any genetic unfairness and giving everyone an equal chance to excel. In addition, human body, according to Savulescu (2004), is limited in terms of its strength and performance, and no matter how well players train themselves, they are not going to display the same vigor and performance on the field without the use of performance enhancing drugs. The implication here is that PEDs help players go beyond the restraints of performance which is often limited to their physical abilities and offer a fair competition to everyone. Overall, PEDs should be considered ethical in order to provide an equal chance to every player to win the game and to level the playing field.

The legalization of PEDs can save time and resources which are otherwise invested in enforcing laws pertaining to doping and related testing. In other words, allowing PEDs would cease all the anti-doping policies and tests which are mostly unsuccessful and involve a lot of investment. Kayser (2005) asserts that instead of investing millions behind anti-doping legislations and policies, resources should be utilized to do more research on these drugs in order to determine their optimum use and prevent their dangerous effects on players.  If we are really worried about the players’ health, Savulescu (2004) further supports this notion, we should rather invest in diagnosing athletes for their health rather than wasting a lot of money on the anti-doping tests that run unsuccessful most of the time as increasing number of companies are developing drugs that cannot be detected. Julian Savulescu (2013) rightly says “The science of drug testing has progressed, but it appears that the dopers are always a step ahead”. In other words, dopers are getting smarter at passing the anti-doping tests, and the zero tolerance ban on PEDs is basically failing and resulting in usage of time and resources. Legalizing doping would help check this.

Supporters of the spirit of sport and the critics of performance enhancing drugs argue that PEDs have potential harmful effects on the athletes and the players who are caught doping often lose their careers (Worsnop, 1991). Additionally, critics also argue that seldom players are forced upon by their coaches, teammates and fans to take PEDs in order to allow them superior performance which is quite unethical. While these arguments are valid on one level, one should also consider that PEDs help athletes attain their dream. The triumph and the rate at which players are able to recover from injuries due to PEDs do not outweigh its risks. Additionally, as Savulescu (2103) rightly counter argues, ‘risk-free’ sport is non-existent; what we really need is a balance between the use of PEDs, safety and enforcement laws. In other words, there is an equal chance of risk in sports even without PEDs and that a smart decision would be to maintain a balance between health of the players and the risk associated with PEDs. With regard to the claim that players are being forced to consume PEDs, while Worsnop (1991) suggests that most athletes’ decision to consume PEDs is based upon what the society thinks of them, it is also true that this decision should be – as Guenette (2008) rightly mentions – a personal problem rather than a social problem. In other words, it should ultimately the players’ choice to consume PEDs even though it is influenced by someone else. Guenette (2008) goes on to say that steroids should be legalized even if they are a risk to the athletes’ health as it is their personal choice and they are wise enough to decide for themselves.

The rewarded feeling that the athletes get and the action and aggression in performance-driven sporting events all together can make sports more interesting and a profitable industry. The ethical use of PEDs and their eventual legalization would help athletes live their dreams, help them fight their injuries faster, target the use of potential resources towards the health of the players, and maintain the spirit of sport by providing equal opportunities to everyone on the same field. As Savulescu (2004) asserts that our fight against the use of the drugs has failed so far and instead of hating doping, we should rather ‘embrace’ the use of performance enhancing drugs. It is time to accept that PEDs can make humans better at what they are destined to do and that is the real spirit of sport.

Shyamal Anadkat
Shyamal Anadkat (a.k.a Zostale) is a student in Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, USA. Innovation, creativity, and the art of critical thinking are few of the ingredients that craft his way of life. For the rest of his day, he enjoys gyming, playing lawn tennis, mixing music, and penning his thoughts even at 3 in the morning. His lifetime motto is 'to learn, progress, and serve’.