Performance enhancing drugs (or PEDs) are not a new revelation in sports. The history of “doping” goes as far back as the ancient Greeks during the original Olympic Games in 776 BC. Some argue that in a controlled, non-abusive scenario using PEDs could possibly be a great thing. So, should performance enhancing drugs be allowed in sports? Here’s some food for thought…
Some of the world’s most famous athletes who have been caught doping include Jose Canseco (baseball), Ben Johnson (athletics), Marion Jones (athletics), Lyle Alzado (American football), Floyd Landis (cycling) and our course, Lance Armstrong (cycling).
What seems more and more prevalent is that doping is definitely happening in almost all sports. The science has become how to cycle better PEDs and mask the doping so not to get caught. This has also lead us down a path where non-doping athletes stand very little chance of competing at a top level and they have to decide between the moral high-ground or following the pack to stay competitive. A large part of this theory comes from the intense scrutiny and revelations exposed when Lance Armstrong was caught doping and opened up the floodgates of “truth”. It’s fair to say that this is more than likely the case for almost all other sports too, especially considering that cycling is one of the most tested sports worldwide, it’s easy to understand this point.
What’s scary is that PEDs are also being used, and more so abused, by young athletes at the high school and university level. A risk which could lead to major health issues down the line, especially because younger athletes tend to have limited knowledge and resources and are more likely to take risks without thinking of the long-term side effects.
So, how could it be allowed and at what levels? Where is that line between overuse, abuse and health risks? How do you control it now and even if it were allowed? These are common questions asked when debating this topic.
The argument against the use of PEDs is that they are dangerous and give an unfair advantage to users versus non-users. This is undoubtedly true, especially if they are used without proper knowledge, control or administration, and definitely if it’s not true for all athletes competing to maintain a level playing field.
On the other hand, some argue that it’s alright to use certain supplements but not others, which can be seen as contradictory, and that it’s a natural progression of science to develop safer and more effective supplements and PEDs. The thinking is that instead of outright banning it, let quality science dictate which PEDs are safe and in what manner – i.e. to set regulatory rules of use. The argument here is that we should allow athletes to use PEDs, administered by professionals, limited to regulated “healthy” levels of use, and that it’s an inevitable part of the future of sports, so make room for it.
Something to think about is that if we want to see athletes progress and push the limits of performance in any sports, then a “natural” athlete’s ability will have limits which have likely been reached in many sports already. How fast is a human really capable of running 100m, for example (check the link)? If PEDs are allowed, we could see these limits being pushed beyond what we consider the top of the stack now. However, if PEDs are allowed, and let’s say that the use of PEDs is regulated by accurate science, in terms of what can or can’t be used or how much can be safely used, then what are these new performance limits and on the other hand what stops athletes from abusing and blurring the lines and abusing those regulations as the do the current regulations which are far stricter?
It’s a tricky debate, and one which also opens the debate about whether the best athlete (using PEDs) won or just the athlete with the best team of doctors or advisors for PEDs use. Additionally, what does this tell our youth and is the current use of supplements telling our youth the same/similar thing now anyhow?
One thing is certain, the use of performance enhancing drugs is real and it’s happening in almost all sports, whether that fact is accepted or not. The next generation of athletes, regulatory bodies, youth and spectators has a lot to think about and the truth is that it’s likely that nothing will change for years to come, with the exception of better science, better PEDs and smarter ways to cheat the system.