In pursuit of the hop, skip…and where did they go?
We love a superhero. Otherworldly feats of strength? Speed? Flexibility? Name a trait and there’s a comic character to embody it.
And in the land of mortals, sport (particularly of an athletic nature) provides the opportunity to emulate our fictional heroes; venturing into the unknown and edging ‘accomplishment’ ever closer to ‘impossible’. We love outstanding performances. Athletes yearn for the immortality they offer. So why limit human potential, our enjoyment and the pursuit of redefining excellence by placing barriers on performance enhancement?
In the context of sport, performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are banned substances used to improve activity performance. There are a few arguments against their use, with the most compelling relating to health and fairness.
The first, health, is ostensibly virtuous but doesn’t hold in the context of some sports. PEDs have been shown to contribute to a variety of negative health outcomes, but so does sports participation in general. Instances of the debilitating chronic traumatic encephalopathy from repetitive brain trauma are numerous in former NFL players (and sometimes fatal). We accept that it’s part of the game. Importantly, so do players, prioritising elite-level competition over long-term health risks – this is a consequence of present bias.
Our aversion to PEDs is even more interesting considering the general public’s penchant for state altering substances. Smoking and alcohol present serious risks to our health, yet we indulge and over-consume on a weekly basis, without restriction. And consider the highly competitive sporting environment, would PEDs be administered carelessly? Or would athletes be rigorously evaluated, and provided calculated, tailored programmes as per their nutritional and conditioning regimes? Some would be safer on a course of Dianabol than left alone in the pub.
The second argument against, fairness, is one I’m partially on board with. Illegal doping is unjust and violates good sportsmanship. With the current system, though, it’s the one with the moral compass set to virtue – the bloody do-gooder who refuses to cycle their blood – who’s disadvantaged. But if PEDs are unrestricted there’s no moral impediment. With cheating eradicated the playing field is levelled for the righteous and we get to see the true athletic demigods rise to the top of the podium.
Admittedly, there’s a whiff of hyperbole to this argument, we’re not going to see a triple jumper hurdling the Olympic arena, landing in the car park next to the hot dog stand. However, we’re going to top out somewhere without PEDs. We can only go so fast, jump so high and lift so much, unaided. When record-breaking is resigned to the history books, we’ll be yearning for an injection of something to make sport more interesting, PEDs could be that elixir.