Sunday 7 August 2016

Another Olympics, another doping scandal

Just google "Olympic 2016 drugs" and you'll see that, yet again, there's been umpteen disqualifications for "drugs cheating".

I'm just wondering why. Not "Why do they take drugs?", that's obvious. I'm wondering "Why do we ban drug taking?".

The argument for abandoning drugs testing is mostly that it doesn't seem to work. Think about Lance Armstrong, for example. He was doping for a number of years without being found out.

What's the advantage of banning drugs? I'm not sure that there is one. You might say that "drugs are against the spirit of sport", but you could also say that about professionalism in sport. Or even about practicing before the event. Or what about paying for a coach? Or what about streamlining bicycles?

The strongest argument about using drugs that I've heard, is that they carry health risks. But so does tobacco, and we haven't banned that. And what about the problems that football causes to knees? Or boxing to heads? Or American fottball with its repeated concussions? Or climbing Everest? Surely we can leave it to adults to decide for themselves whether to take the risk or not?

Here's an interesting list of pros and cons.


  1. The issue I have with allowing performance-enhancing drugs is that the sport becomes a competition between the best - or best financed - chemists, not between the best athletes.

    1. Isn't that the same as the argument about the coaches used, or even the engineers hired to design/build the equipment (where appropriate)?

      I think that, like many things, it's cultural in nature. Olympians are in the public eye, ergo there's an expectation for them to set an example to the rest of us, and "drugs are bad, m'kay" is a narrative that's been pushed for a long time to the point that it is the cultural norm, regardless of what the drug actually is or does.

  2. I can take on board all of the points made, particularly where success may depend on having the best engineered equipment.

    Sportsmen live for their sport and will do almost anything to improve. I remember a report from years ago that sportsmen were surveyed as to whether they would take a legal (or undetectable) drug, which would guarantee success, even though it would take 10 years off their lifespan - the majority said that they would.

    There has been Twitter exchange between Irish boxing team members to Rory McIlroy (boycotting over health concerns), where they said that it would be worth contracting Zica virus if they could win medals.

    Main motivation for posting comment, however, was due to report just heard on radio about India's Abhinav Bindra who competes in 10m air rifle and was the 2008 Olympic champion. His obsessive pursuit of perfection led him to have his love handles surgically removed to improve his balance, undergo brain mapping, import yak milk from China when told it aided concentration (it doesn't), and shave a millimetre off the sole of one shoe after testing a pair for 20 days.

  3. "even though it would take 10 years off their lifespan - the majority said that they would"

    But they are adults. They'd be making an informed choice. How can it be right to tell an adult "you're not clever enough to make the right choice for yourself"

    Especially when we let those same adults smoke cigarettes.