Author: Emma Zhou
In a society where talent largely depends on your financial capability and family status, the wealth gap continues to widen. Talent in sports is often not determined by the amount of time spent training, but rather how much money athletes spend on getting better training equipment and more experienced coaches. The less fortunate are, therefore, robbed of their chances to succeed from the start. They can only watch on as their dreams get taken away by someone who struggled through less hardships. Because of this wealth gap and other inequalities in sports, sports organizations should permit the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for all athletes.
PEDs are different types of drugs or substances that help improve an athlete’s performance by “increasing muscle mass, speed, and agility” (White and Noeun). They help athletes overpower their opponents and secure their win. Currently, the use of drugs in sports is illegal and many sport organizations across the world “have adopted the World Anti Doping Agency's (WADA) Code banning 192 performance enhancing substances” (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons). There has also been an increasing call to action, especially towards lawmakers in sports, to put into effect strict anti-doping policies. In fact, the use of these drugs is gradually decreasing. However, many young and elite athletes are still taking them to boost their performance.
Sports are, in essence, supposed to be fair for all athletes. However, wealth can give an unfair head start to the more elite athletes, who can use their wealth and connections to maintain a more prominent position and gain more supporters. As a result, many who are poor or from the working class are excluded from elite sports (Henne 6). But wealth is not the only issue. For example, it is not “clear that sport has an inherent or essential integrity that can only be sustained through regulation” (Smith and Stewart). Having certain regulations like an anti-doping policy does not automatically make sports fair due to other underlying factors such as gender, power, and race inequality that can influence the results in sports (Moore and Kieffer III). Moreover, many adolescents, especially younger elite athletes, are already taking PEDs (White and Noeun). If only upper-class athletes are allowed access to not only better equipment, but also drugs that help them perform better, it becomes much harder for other athletes to rise to the top without help. If those with unfair advantages are allowed in sports, those that do not have them should be allowed to take PEDs to match those benefits.
Currently, a reason PEDs are not accepted is concerns regarding their side effects. Some of these side effects include mental illness, sickness, and other life-damaging impacts (Creado and Reardon). The harmful aspects of PEDs cannot be denied. However, athletes can have informed consent: they would be fully educated on the potential risks of PEDs, and would have the choice to decide whether or not to take them. This way, athletes can weigh the pros and the cons on their own, and should be held responsible for their own decisions. Additionally, WADA must take into account all the other risks already inherent in sports. Participating in sports is always unsafe for athletes: there is always, and will always be, risks of physical injury and long-term emotional damage. PEDs are just one more risk for athletes to consider.
A common belief around PEDs is that peer pressure would force others to take PEDs. For instance, Lance Armstrong, a famous cyclist who was exposed to taking drugs in his career, not only took PEDs himself, but also encouraged his teammates to do the same and did not allow anyone to argue against him (Wolff and Epstein). However, with sports receiving so much attention regularly, athletes will also be pressured by the public to win competitions. So, if PEDs are made more available to the public, there would be more education on the possible health risks and ways to prevent misusing PEDs. This would decrease athletes’ chance of hurting themselves while making everyone more informed and less biased. Moreover, even if PEDs remain banned, some athletes will still continue to take them. Therefore, legalizing PEDs would be a lot better than pretending these problems do not exist.
Sports may seem like a utopia: athletes who train hard will be rewarded. But even if an athlete practices every single day, gritting their teeth through pain and sweat, others could still surpass them because of something they can not change: privilege. As more sports become competitions between only the elites, those who are not eligible to compete will be pushed further beneath the standards society has set for them. If the rich can buy their trophies, why can’t sports permit the use of PEDs?
Henne, Kathryn. “The ‘Science’ of Fair Play in Sport: Gender and the Politics of Testing.” Signs, vol. 39, no. 3, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, pp. 787–812, https://doi.org/10.1086/674208.
Performance Enhancing Drugs - Aaos. https://aaos.org/contentassets/1cd7f41417ec4dd4b5c4c48532183b96/1102-performance-enhancing-drugs.pdf.
Reardon, Claudia L, and Shane Creado. “Drug abuse in athletes.” Substance abuse and rehabilitation vol. 5 95-105. 14 Aug. 2014, doi:10.2147/SAR.S53784
Smith, Aaron C T, and Bob Stewart. “Drug policy in sport: hidden assumptions and inherent contradictions.” Drug and alcohol review vol. 27,2 (2008): 123-9. doi:10.1080/09595230701829355
“Social Inequalities in Sports.” Prezi.com, https://prezi.com/fd-58m6lo_rc/social-inequalities-in-sports/#:~:text=In%20conclusion%2C%20there%20are%20many,much%20change%20has%20been%20made.
2015 Adrvs Report Overview - World Anti-Doping Agency. https://www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/2015_adrvs_report_overview_web.pdf.
White, Nicole D, and James Noeun. “Performance-Enhancing Drug Use in Adolescence.” American journal of lifestyle medicine vol. 11,2 122-124. 29 Nov. 2016, doi:10.1177/1559827616680593
Wolff, Alexander, and David Epstein. “‘A Massive Fraud Now More Fully Exposed.’” Sports Illustrated, vol. 117, no. 16, Oct. 2012, pp. 40–46. EBSCOhost, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=82835756.