The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport has become a huge issue in all modern codes of sport. In the recent 2012 Olympic games in London, it was suggested that as many as 60% of the athletes were taking illegal drugs. You only have to open the newspaper or turn on the television to discover a new batch of professional athletes that have been caught ‘doping’. Although athletes are regularly drug tested, there have been multiple cases where athletes have been able to cheat the system and return negative results.
Australia has been a front-runner in the fight against sports doping, and has even established a national anti-doping headquarters, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), which coincides with the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA). The main issue with performing-enhancing drugs is the fact that it creates an unfair or uneven playing field between competing athletes. Having said this, if statistics are true, and so many professional athletes are already doping, would the competition become fairer if banned substances were permitted?
Biology The term ‘doping’ was first used to describe the illegal drugging of racehorses in the 20th Century. Since then, doping has evolved dramatically. There are many different methods in which an athlete can use performance enhancing drugs, the most common being blood doping. Blood doping works by increasing the amount of haemoglobin in the blood stream, meaning that strenuous muscles can take in more oxygen, hence increasing the amount of energy provided to the muscles through resparation. This can greatly improve an athlete’s stamina in long distance events such as marathon running or cycling. Extra haemoglobin can be added to an athlete’s body in a number of ways.
Autologous Transfusions occur when an athlete transfers his or her own blood from previously drawn samples back into their body, increasing the amount of haemoglobin in their body for a period of time.
Homologous Transfusions are much like autologous transfusions; however instead of an athlete’s own blood, different samples of blood with the same blood type as the athlete are injected into the bloodstream.
Synthetic Oxygen Carriers are chemicals that have the ability to carry oxygen. They can be injected directly into an athlete’s bloodstream, and act in the same way as natural haemoglobin. HBOCs (haemoglobin-based oxygen carriers) and PFCs (perfluorocarbons) are examples of these chemicals.
Erythropoietin (EPO) Injections are also a common form of blood doping. EPO is a hormone produced in the kidney. It regulates the body’s production of red blood cells. EPO injections are used normally on patients suffering from chronic kidney disease and patients who have anemia, as they cannot produce this protein naturally, and hence cannot regulate the amount of red blood cells they produce. Doping athletes use EPO injections to cause their bodies to produce more red blood cells, which allows for more oxygen to reach the muscles (see Figure 1).
Anabolic Steroids are another common and well-known group of banned performance-enhancing drugs. Anabolic Steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male development hormone testosterone. They work by promoting the body’s muscles cells to produce more protein (see Figure 2). With regular exercise and muscular workouts, this leads to an increased muscle size and muscular strength, as well as allowing the body to produce more Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is essential in storing cell’s energy. Steroids are appropriately used to provide people such as those suffering from cancers, malnutrition and tuberculosis with the testosterone that they cannot naturally produce themselves.
The use of anabolic steroids is banned in all major sporting associations, however there have been many cases in professional sport where athletes have been caught using steroids. Modern science has allowed for the creation of ‘undetectable steroids’, which seem to be in common use among profession sporting codes. In 2013, more than 60 athletes in America alone testified to the use of these undetectable drugs before a grand jury.
A final example of sports doping is the use of stimulants. Stimulants, as the name suggests, stimulate the Central Nervous System (CNS), to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Athletes use stimulants in an attempt to increase alertness, reduce tiredness, and increase their competitiveness and aggression. Adrenaline and Amphetamines are examples of a naturally occur stimulants, which are both banned in all codes of professional sports globally.
Advantages As it stands, almost all forms of performance-enhancing drugs are banned, no matter their strength or potency. This can catch athletes off guard, as substances that are considered illegal in the eyes of sporting authorities, are often found in common antibiotics and medicines. Permitting the use of all performance enhancing drugs would take away this grey area, and allow athletes to use any forms of personal medication without having to fear being caught ‘cheating’.
As well as this, the permission to use performance-enhancing drugs would allow athletes the freedom to improve their performance by any means, without being persecuted. Professor Robert Smith of Hamilton University suggested that no one has the right to tell athletes what they can and cannot do.
“If athletes prefer the gains in performance allegedly provided by the use of steroids…what gives anyone the right to interfere with their choice? After all, if we should not forbid smokers from risking their health by smoking, why should we prohibit athletes from taking risks with their health in pursuit of their goals?”
Professor Smith also suggested that the permission of performance-enhancing drugs would actually create for a fairer and more even contest among athletes. To support this, he stated, “Competition can be unfair if there is unequal access to particular enhancements, but equal access can be achieved more predictably by deregulation than by prohibition.”
Disadvantages The regulations regarding performance-enhancing drugs in sport at the moment allow for the general perception of athletes that do take these drugs to be quite degrading. A sport that is considered free of performance-enhancing drugs tends to have a good reputation, especially when compared to sports such as cycling and swimming where the use of performance-enhancing drugs is considered rife. By permitting the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the public perception of these drugs, especially surrounding youth, could be flipped, with people believing that it is ‘okay’ and ‘normal’ to use drugs that are very bad for a persons health. Recent statistics from the Health Research Funding organisation show that, among American teenagers who use steroids, 60% were encouraged into practice because of a professional that was taking these drugs. All of these teenagers went on to say that it was the right of a professional athlete to be able to use these drugs, no matter the cost to their bodies.
Athletes who use any form of performance-enhancing drug are susceptible to a great deal of side effects and health risks. Anabolic agents are particularly notorious when it comes to dangerous side effects, especially in young people. Steroids are commonly used to bring on the effects of puberty for people with delayed puberty problems, so athletes who regularly use steroids are susceptible to extreme versions of the side effects that occur during puberty. Figure 3 describes the effects that anabolic steroids can have on athletes. If performance-enhancing drugs were permitted in sport, all athletes would be exposed to these health problems, and all the others involved with the varying types of banned substances.
The health risks involved with the use of performance enhancing drugs will not be the only issue to come from their legalisation; the cost to society as a result will be severe. With all professional athletes consuming performance-enhancing drugs, the ongoing medical care required to treat athletes who have suffered from side effects will involve a huge amount of money, and put a huge strain on society. The legalisation of these drugs could mean even the everyday person is affected in the hope to treat suffering athletes.
Conclusion As technology and medical research continues to advance, and the pressure to achieve greatness becomes paramount among athletes, the increase of the use of performance enhancing drugs will, no doubt, become more prevalent. The implications of anti-doping organisations and added athlete scrutiny seem to be doing very little to deter athletes from the use of these drugs. In saying this however, the disadvantages seem to clearly outweigh the advantages in the performance enhancing drug debate, and I believe that these drugs should remain illegal. I hope that in the future, work is done to ensure the use of performance enhancing drugs becomes less and less common.
Research Critical Analysis
Source One – ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine’ Savulescu, J, ‘Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs In Sport’, British Journal of Sports Medicine 38.6 (2004): 666-670, Web, 15 Aug. 2015
This article gave in-depth reasoning as to why the author (J. Savulescu) agrees with the legalisation of performance enhancing drugs. The article did not show bias however, as it also provided me with many opposing ideas and arguments. The website is peer reviewed, and is a well-respected medical journal, so is clearly credible.
Source Two – ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ Mahlman, Maxwel, ‘Bioethics: Performance Enhancing Drugs In Sports – The Doctor’, Thedoctorwillseeyounow.com, N.p, 2005, Web, 15 Aug. 2015
‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ is a popular website that has many sources of medical advice on many different issues. The website was extremely helpful in provide concise and easy to understand explanations and examples of how performance enhancing drugs work. The websites views on bioethics seemed to be extremely reliable and unbiased.
Source Three – ‘The Health Research Funding Organisation’ HRFnd, ’20 Incredible Statistics Of Steroid Use In Professional Sports – Hrfnd’, N.p, 2015, Web, 14 Aug. 2015
The Health Research Funding organisation is an organisation that provides a huge amount of support and medical research to hospitals in the United States. Given this knowledge, I am sure the information displayed on their website is reliable and credible. Unlike the other two mentioned sources, this source was actually written this year, so I can be sure the information is current.