Legalize Sports Cheating
John Tierney and Megan McArdle argue that we should let athletes use whatever performance enhancing drugs they want since some will cheat regardless of the rules and because our definition of “fair” competition evolves over time.
The response to that, though, is obvious: many of these drugs are dangerous and legitimating them all but mandates them. John, an early commenter on Megan’s post, puts it nicely:
The problem with doping is that it filters down to the lowest levels of competition. If you told me that I could take a drug that would allow me to win a gold medal but it would take a couple of years off of my life, I might do it and even if I didn’t I wouldn’t blame someone who did. But once you allow doping, the choice is made for everyone. It means that you have to dope to compete at the Olympics. But of course you are not born an Olympic athlete. You start at lower levels. If you allow doping for swimming in the Olympics, that means that all of the college athletes and post college athletes who compete for the spots on the team will also be doping. If there are some athletes in college who dope, that means all the athletes in college will dope if they expect to compete with the ones who do and so forth until finally one day you have people doping to play high school sports.
Tierney’s other point is harder to dismiss: Because the cheaters are always ahead of the testing, all competition takes place under a cloud of suspicion.
The journal Nature, in an editorial in the current issue, complains that “antidoping authorities have fostered a sporting culture of suspicion, secrecy and fear” by relying on unscientifically calibrated tests, like the unreliable test for synthetic testosterone that cost Floyd Landis his 2006 Tour de France victory. Even if the authorities manage to correct their tests, they can’t possibly keep up with the accelerating advances in biology. Some athletes are already considering new drugs like Aicar and GW1516, which made news recently when researchers at the Salk Institute used them to quickly turn couch-potato mice into treadmill champions with new, strong muscles.
Of course, abandoning testing will lead to more, not less, suspicion that people are doping. Perhaps, though, people wouldn’t care if the rules were changed so that it would no longer be “cheating” to take these drugs. But, again, that essentially forces 14-year-olds with Olympic dreams to become lab rats.
Image: Cartoon Stock