Harm of doping

  • Doping can be harmful to athletes who dope

 Since many prohibited substances or methods carry serious risks of harm to their users, doping adds unnecessary risks to the sport. Good sport should not require that athletes undertake those unnecessary risks. Here the suggestion is that doping should be prohibited to protect the athletes who dope.  While this argument can be viewed as paternalistic and inconsistent with other practices accepted in sport, possible responses to these criticisms include the argument that sport is entitled to defend its values, one of which is respect for participants, and therefore can seek to protect athletes against unnecessary harm.  Also, it is not because sport carries other unnecessary risks that doping should be allowed. Perhaps a more logical approach would be to examine the other unsafe practices and see how they could be changed to make sport safer.

  • Doping harms athletes who do not dope

The athletes who dope ruin fair sport for athletes who do not dope. If clean athletes feel that other athletes are doping they may feel the need to dope to catch up. This results in the dreadful situation where everyone ends up doping. The craziness of this situation is that doping is only an advantage to the cheat if others don’t dope. If everyone dopes that advantage is lost and athletes are back where they started – only now everyone dopes. The level-playing field can be attained either with no-one doping or with everyone doping. 

The argument here is that doping is coercive. Because doping may improve performance, there is coercive pressure placed on those who wish to compete without doping. If there are doped athletes, then athletes who do not dope are now forced to dope to keep up.  This approach has been criticised as incomplete because elite-level sport is already highly coercive. If full-time training, or altitude training, or diet control are shown to produce better results then everyone is forced to adopt those measures to keep up.

However, this position does not hold if the true meaning of sporting excellence and sporting contests are about testing skills, hard work and natural talent. In this case, doping becomes unnecessarily coercive, as compared to, for example, extended training, which intends

to improve one’s skills for enhanced performance.

  • Doping harms society

Whether athletes like it or not, they are influential role models for young people. The behavior and actions of elite athletes can have significant impact on young people as they admire and aspire to emulate their sporting heroes, especially their actions and attitudes.

Doping sends an awful set of destructive messages. First, doping sends the message that it is acceptable to cheat to get ahead. Second, doping says that people can turn to a bottle or a pill for success. These messages are inconsistent with those that society is trying to send out to its youth: it is wrong to cheat to get ahead and, there is no substitute for effort, commitment, dedication and skill. This is true in sport as much as in everyday life. Sport has a special place in people’s lives and in their communities.

People commit vast amounts of their time, energy and effort to sport. Families and communities try to create sporting opportunities for young people that allow them to grow, develop and have fun. Doping undermines all of that effort and commitment.

If people believe that sport is dirty, that they have to use a needle or pop some pills to get ahead then their love for sport will die. Communities do not just value sport; they value good sport – clean sport. All of those currently engaged in sport have a responsibility to ensure that good sporting opportunities are available for those who come behind.

But again this argument can find some detractors who say that it does not hold if doping is not prohibited in the first place. If rules allowed doping, then athletes would not be labeled as cheats for doing it. However, the use of substances by athletes to enhance their performance may very well become a way in which recreational  drug use is normalized in the eyes of youths and may undermine all society’s efforts  to reduce drug use and abuse among its children. Society may well be justified in striving to remove the example set by doped athletes.