The Case For Performance-Enhancing Drugs In Sports – Matthew Herper — The Medicine Show – Forbes: “To me, the most obvious solution has always been to legalize those drugs that work, and to experimentally monitor new entrants, including dietary supplements, for both efficacy and safety. Biological improvement would be treated much as athletic equipment like baseball bats and running shoes.”
PROPOSED: An unlimited class for selected sports distinct from traditional leagues or divisions, wherein participants are free to use drugs, surgery or any other legal** means to gain a competitive advantage.
- All participants of said unlimited class would have to register their performance-enhancing techniques with a central administration.
- Participants would further have to submit to a regular suite of medical testing, designed in part to monitor their well-being but also to measure the efficacy of their methods.
- No other limits would be placed on their behavior.
From a practical standpoint, the unlimited class would be employed like an additional division within a competition, e.g. another weight class in weight lifting. Because unlimited-class athletes would be competing only against others in their unlimited class, events would technically have two winners: one in the unlimited class and one in the traditional class of competition. This might be the source of confusion at first, but over time, as unlimited-class performances diverge from traditional ones, it would likely become the subject of intense interest.
This system answers many of the typical objections to the legalization of drugs in sports, namely concerns about fairness and the mistrust of the public. By labeling athletes as, for instance, drug users from the beginning, you encode performances before they happen. Fans won’t have to wonder who is taking steroids because television announcers will be able to tell them — and which drugs they take.
It falls short, admittedly, of answering others. For one thing, it would potentially encourage athletes, especially young ones, to take avoidable health risks. For another, creating a flight of drug-using athletes obviously does nothing to prevent others from cheating. But what a medically-supervised unlimited class would do is build a growing, comprehensive database of performance-enhancing techniques, which arguably would lead not only to better antidoping protocols in traditional competitions, but also to a clearer view of which techniques are helpful and which are harmful. It would, in effect, be a continuous field trial for the myriad methods in use. And some of these could be developed for use in traditional competitions, to improve performance, speed up healing and ameliorate the deleterious health effects of a long-term sports career.
The idea of an unlimited class regrettably is a bold step away from the perceived principled foundations of sport that some say are corroded by the influence of, among other things, performance-enhancing drugs. But this is not a perception that should be encouraged. Indeed, very little done today by world sports governing bodies appears to be moving in a different direction. There are allegations of corruption, on and off the field, in every sport; the news media tends to emphasize the bad behaviors of athletes, but such antics are clearly not improving over time; and antidoping efforts seem at best to merely keep pace with the maneuvers of illegal users.
The concept of an unlimited class may seem like a cynical stroke, but what is more cynical than sports in the first place? If it’s possible, why not leverage that cynicism — and the deliciously ghoulish possibility of three-legged sprinters — to improve sports science. Test the depths of what is safe while clearing the way for what can be achieved.
* It isn’t “my” idea, but I did, in fact, have this as an “idea.” Though, not really even this idea.
** Legal for ordinary people in everyday circumstances. Human growth hormone, for instance, is legal in the United States with a prescription, but its use is proscribed by various sports governing bodies.