Is doping ruining sport?

Sunday 23 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Cinema 2 Contemporary Controversies

It must have felt as close as any race. Just 12 days before the beginning of the Rio games, the Russian Olympic team avoided a blanket ban from the competition. Their Paralympic partners were less fortunate; the entire team were banned from competing in the September games. The Russian Olympic scandal has been the most recent and notorious example of doping in a sporting world where it sometimes seems performance enhancing drugs are rife. The cyclist Lance Armstrong, a one-time hero now disgraced and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, is just one offender in a cycling competition in which 20 of the 21 podium finishers between 1999 and 2005 have been at least implicated in doping. And in 2013, the baseball player Alex Rodriguez was handed a ban of 162 games, the longest non-lifetime ban in the sport’s history, for the use of performance enhancing drugs. But what is the problem with doping?

When one begins to pick apart the question, it becomes far harder to answer. Some argue it is unfair. This is true, especially when some sportsmen use drugs and others do not. But simply removing doping would hardly make sport a level playing field. The cross country skier Eero Mäntyranta won a total of seven medals in the 1960, 64 and 68 Olympics because of an anomaly in his DNA which allowed his bone marrow to overproduce red blood cells. Others argue doping is dangerous. But with so much at stake, sportsmen are willing to risk everything to take these drugs anyway. So if we can’t stop doping, should we instead try to regulate it? But another argument is that doping goes against the spirit of sport. And it is this argument that opens up the broader question of what is the point of sport? If it is about pushing the limits of humanity, of bettering ourselves, can doping not play a legitimate role? In the same way better training, preparation and equipment can help improve the sportsman, why can’t physically enhancing drugs?

Perhaps the reality is that we cannot get rid of doping. With so much at stake, the athlete will do anything to win. The question is, will we accept doping as playing a legitimate part in sport? Or will we continue to reject it as against the spirit of fair competition?