Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. “You never win the silver, you always lose the gold” are popular encouraging victory sayings taken literally by sportspersons. Throughout time, these people have aspired to reach higher levels of achievement in sporting situations to show prestige over others and acquire the feeling of success. Many athletes devote their lives to hopefully get this feeling, a feeling only they can truly appreciate due to the innumerable sacrifices they must have made. But because of human’s instinctive desire to succeed, it is needless to say that some looked for the easier routes to be successful, achieve victory, praises and fame. One such method was performance enhancing drugs.

The use of stimulants to improve an athlete’s performance can be taken back to the ancient Greek times. The anecdotal evidence for this is as follows. The Persian Army landed on the plain of Marathon, 25 miles from Athens in 490 BC. A messenger named Feidipides was sent to Sparta by the Athenians to ask for help. He ran the 150 miles in two days. The Spartans were late. The Athenians attacked and, although outnumbered five to one, were victorious. To report victory, Feidipides was sent to run back to Athens. On arrival, he screamed “We won” and dropped dead from exhaustion because of the stimulant’s reaction.

Another instance when performance enhancing drugs were used took place in 1976, when the East German swimming team won 11 out of 13 Olympic events. However, they later sued the government for giving them anabolic steroids.

The use of drugs to cheat in sports is not new, but it is becoming more effective. With technology advances, drugs have become harder to detect because they mimic natural processes. The days of amateur sporting competition are now gone. Elite athletes can earn tens of millions of dollars every year in prize money alone, and millions more in sponsorships and endorsements. The lure of success is great. Today, enormous rewards for the winner, the effectiveness of the drugs, and the low rate of testing all combine to create a cheating “game” that is irresistible to athletes.

Kjetil Haugen investigated the suggestion that athletes face a kind of prisoner’s dilemma regarding drugs. His game theoretic model shows that, unless the likelihood of athletes being caught doping was raised to unrealistically high levels, or the payoffs for winning were reduced to unrealistically low levels, athletes could all be predicted to cheat. The current situation for athletes ensures that this is likely, even though they are worse off as a whole if everyone takes drugs, than if nobody takes drugs. Hence Haugen’s analysis proves the obvious : that when the risk of being caught is zero, athletes will all choose to cheat.

It’s an old cliché that sport is a metaphor for the human condition. But there’s a lot of truth to it. As technology helped humanity obliterate these milestones and move beyond what until 100 years ago had been a long, bleak history, similar advances in nutrition, training, and using technology to improve techniques have enabled sport records to fall with astonishing reality. By using performance enhancing drugs to have impressive statistical credentials, athletes are doing something that is taboo, illegal and highly dangerous. They subject their body to stress; it really wasn’t designed to endure. Also, legalizing these drugs is ethically and morally incorrect. The winner is not the person with a combination of the best genetic potential, training, psychology and sound judgment but the one who has taken the most expensive and effective steroids.

This poses a great health risk and also violates the “spirit of the sport” which is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind. It is characterized by ethics, fair play, honesty, courage, dedication and respect for rules, laws, self and other participants. Success is an adjunct. Don’t you think the moment of victory is much too short to live for that and for nothing else?

Pragya Goel

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