The Ethics of Legalizing the Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

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“Being a winner” is a position that almost every person would want to be in, right? There’s the fame, there’s the money... but what else is there? An athlete may not even be mentally stable after winning as sometimes the pressure on them to win could mean that they lose everything if they don’t perform well. Athletes are always pushing themselves to be the best of the best as it could mean that they earn significantly higher financially by coming first place in an event rather than second place - in some cases the difference between payment between first and second place can reach millions of USD. The culture of winning everything and being the best places a huge amount of pressure on athletes and leads them to push to win, at any cost (Mottram 2013)

There are many types of Performance Enhancing Drugs that can be taken:

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  • Anabolic Steroids - Provide variations of testosterone in the human body to promote the growth of muscles, can be particularly useful for sports requiring high levels of muscular strength.
  • Beta-Blockers - maintain a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and also reduces strength and anxiety. These are usually used by athletes that perform in activities where a high concentration is required like archery.
  • Diuretics - used to increase the amount of urine produced and is used by athletes to make extreme cuts in weight. For example, Boxers may use these to cut down to a lower weight class.
  • Narcotic Analgesics - depress the central nervous system and give short term relief from injuries.
  • Peptide Hormones - used to remove waste products from the body fast, they increase muscle mass & increase red blood cell count. Cyclists may use this regularly
  • Growth Hormones - examples of peptide hormones, they stimulate growth cell reproduction
  • Stimulants - used to temporarily increase the alertness or energy of the athlete for a short term effect. Can be used by short-distance sprinters.
  • Blood doping - This is a method used by many athletes where oxygenated red blood cells are injected into the body to increase the endurance of the athlete
  • EPO - (Erythropoietin) is a hormone produced naturally by the kidneys, but extra can be injected in order to increase endurance, mainly used by endurance athletes

Superhuman performance is a goal for many athlete’s and they will push to achieve this at no cost. In 1904, the men’s marathon of the summer Olympics was the earliest use of performance-enhancing drugs to be recorded during sport. Thomas Hicks, who won the marathon, had an injection of the stimulant, strychnine halfway through his race in an attempt to revive him and finish the race strong. As it was not a banned substance, Thomas was not stripped of his medals. There are many cases like this, one debate could be why caffeine is not a banned substance since it is also a stimulant? (Drahl C 2017) But there are also many instances where the Athlete’s don’t know that they are taking performance-enhancing drugs. Marcel Desailly, a former footballer for French team Marseilles publicly stated that, at his time at the club, the squad was told to consume pills before major football matches by the chairman of and Desailly recalled that the box of the tablets had a label saying that: “This medicine, above a certain dose, can be considered as a doping substance for high-level sportsmen” (Campbell 2002). Another example of this could be when the manager of Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger confirmed that a few of the players that were joining Arsenal showed symptoms of EPO usage when being fitness tested - showing an abnormally high red blood cell count. He quickly defended the players saying that “There are clubs who dope players without the players knowing. The club might say that they were being injected with vitamins and the player would not know that they were being injected with something different.” (Independent, 8/10/2004; Guardian, 9/10/2004).This may be truth showing that the athlete may not have any idea that they are being given Performance Enhancing Drugs and they may believe all their hard work helped them win. (Malcolm 2006)

Success is a target that all athletes want to reach, the benefits of being an elite athlete brings sponsorships and prize money worth millions of dollars, even if the athlete is caught for the usage of PED’s the fine and punishment is very low in comparison to the financial success the athletes gain. Overall athletes would most likely be persuaded to cheat as the punishment is a very small obstacle that can be easily overcome. (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton 2004)

If drugs were legalized in the world then there would be no cheating? But the question is should they be legalized. Many people complain that the usage of performance-enhancing drugs creates an unfair advantage to non-users. Genetics can cause the same effects of Performance enhancing drugs, all by luck. Muscle fibre types are genetically issued to people and having different versions of the ACE gene would mean the athlete would perform better in a long-distance event or vice versa (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton 2004) The ‘Genetic lottery’ separates the genetically disadvantaged to sport from the ‘elites’, by allowing all people to have access to PED’s it will even out the playing field in a way so that the genetically disadvantaged for sport have a chance to improve on their weak points through PED’s.

But if everyone was free to use whatever they want for sport, that could lead to financial problems. The use of performance-enhancing drugs may only be available for rich athletes. Having enough of the PED’s to have an effect on performance can become very costly and if they were allowed to be used in the world of the Olympics - the athletes coming from financially deprived countries will have fewer chances to use performance-enhancing drugs than an athlete coming from a high-income country, as it will be available more frequently and possibly cheaper. (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton 2004)

If athletes were allowed to take drugs and it was legalized in the world of sport it would be a lot safer and fairer for the athlete. They would not receive bans and punishments and everyone would be allowed to do the same things. However, their health should be checked frequently to ensure that they are not causing any harm to themselves. Athletes should be given the choice to enhance their performance if they want to but should also accept that there will be many health tests frequently to ensure that they are keeping healthy. This ensures that the athletes are not being harmed and the athletes all have a fair and equal chance to succeed. (Savulescu, Foddy, Clayton 2004)

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