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Performance Enhancers: Perhaps we should re-write the question.

21 January 2013, 13:14

To enhance, or not to enhance, that is the question . . .

Let me just state this out loud and clear from the beginning: I am not a sports fanatic. You will not find me enjoying a relaxing day lounging in front of the television absorbed in some match or another regardless what ball is being chased or bat is being swung. I was prompted to write this purely because of this Lance Armstrong saga. No no no, do not misunderstand, this is not an article about Mr Armstrong and I am not writing this to debate the actions of Mr Armstrong. Instead, while the world was force-feeding me anything and everything about this grandiose scandal to rock all scandals, some interesting questions popped up. The one that really caught my attention was the question of should we allow athletes to make use of performance enhancing drugs?

Oh the debate was furious, ethical blood was spilt that day and a red sun rose, but even as the dust settled and the verbal warriors breathlessly laid down their arguments a heavy silence filled the air. There never was any true and final answer.  As with most large scale debates it ended more due to a lack of sustainable interest rather than due to a complete and final victory at the hands of some awe-inspiring insight or argument. The reason was simple, too much emotion was attached to the debate, and not enough solid logic.

That is actually quite understandable, sport is an emotional experience. When your team manages to overcome the odds and your opponents (I did not say their opponents for a reason), and finally manages to kick that little ball into that little net . . . well to be frank it serves no tangible, real purpose other than that of enjoyment, entertainment and perhaps even to provide an injection of euphoria to the winning team. Now there are multiple arguments as to the reason for sports existence. It could be seen as pure entertainment, and the entertainment business is a lucrative one as we can see when looking at ‘sports’ such as WWE wrestling. Hell, they don’t even try to deny that they are nothing but entertainers as it is even incorporated into their name. Some would argue it is to inspire and challenge society, a modern means of reaching to the stars and push our very limits. Hmmm, a bit too ideological if you ask me and a thought more fitting of a hippy than a normal plain old law abiding citizen. That is one of the great ironies, sport in itself can be seen as a ‘fix’, but the catch is you can only enjoy your ‘fix’ if your team wins. At least the junkies get the fix they pay for. Some say sport is a modern day form of civilized warfare where nations can pit their fittest and strongest against the chosen ‘warriors’ or opposing factions. An almost gladiator styled slaughter but enacted in a coliseum with more socially accepted norms and standards. Ah yes, and here enters the rules and regulations sown across the world to protect the purity of the sport.

Now there is a reason why I so casually drifted through the meaning of sport, and yes it does tie in significantly with the question of whether performance enhancers should be allowed. You see, depending on what we view as the true intention of sporting events, and I am talking on a social level here, we can formulate on whether enhancers should be disallowed. Now as is the case with wrestling, if it is purely for the sake of entertainment, why should performance enhancers not be allowed? If sports are there purely for the reason of seeing which nation can provide the best NATURAL athletes, then surely any form of enhancers should not be allowed. One can even argue that if the intention of sports is to give the victor and his supporters a sense of euphoria when they ultimately defeat their opponent then surely one should not allow enhancers in any way, shape or form lest your euphoria be dulled by the knowledge that your team’s victory was only achieved with the assistance of a little something on the side. Ahhh, and here comes the counter argument, but if both teams used the same enhancers, would that not then be fair and equal? The enhancer can only enhance and amplify the talent that already exists right? Lance could still be champion if no one, including himself, used any performance enhancers right? Since his base platform of natural talent was still better (assuming of course that the enhancers on the market provide the exact same results for everybody)? No no, don’t strain yourself, let me put the counter-argument to that argument for you: “Yes but then sports becomes more about who can afford the better enhancers and not about who truly has the natural talent.” Right, so at this point in the argument technical knowledge and resources choose the better athlete instead of natural selection. Is that a bad thing?

So this is where I really start to enter the argument with my own thoughts:

1.       No enhancers should be allowed in any way shape or form. That would be so great if it was achievable. The fact is that we as humans are exposed to enhancers on a daily basis and this is forced upon us whether we want to or not. If I have a better supply of food in my country while growing up than athlete x in country y, then immediately I have an unfair advantage over that athlete. What about sports development centres and the resources to run such centres? If my country has more resources to guide and train athletes at a young age then surely those athletes would have an advantage over athletes coming from a country where they were too busy starving to train? Something as simple as having access to a bicycle as a child could be the difference between someone being a world class bicycle athlete and that same person begging on a street corner. We are born into a situation, an environment, and whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the circumstances of that environment.

2.       Okay, so maybe a little bit of sports enhancers should be allowed? So where do we draw the line then? Certain sports enhancement drugs are legal. I do not know of any athlete (including amateur gymmers) that do not use some sort of enhancement. Creatine, protein shakes, Phedracut, diet pills are all just a few examples of enhancers freely available on the market. Hell, not only are they available, but every instructor and even the websites providing programs and advice encourages you to use them. Now either these supplements do not work, in which case I see multiple law-suits pending, or they do work and should be banned from sports completely. If one of the main arguments against ‘doping’ is that it will make the playing field unfair because some sportsmen would not be able to afford the sports enhancing drugs and because the performance of an athlete would be measured by the availability of enhancers and resources to the athletes, then surely the first step would be to remove the use of any enhancers that has monetary value or these enhancers should be provided freely to everyone who is interested. Let’s be honest, that is simply not a realistic goal. Also, if the argument against performance enhancing supplements is that they infringe on the integrity of the sport as natural talent is overwhelmed by unnatural enhanced talents provided by the supplements, then once again any and all form of ‘unnatural’ supplements should be removed? So how far do we go in classifying performance enhancing drugs?

3.       What exactly constitutes an enhancer? Does the definition of performance enhancers only include the use of medication physically inserted into the body in one way or another, or perhaps anything that makes changes in the body on some level or another to make it perform better? The reason I ask this question is due to the use of technology in sports. Now that is in some cases unavoidable. Motorcar racing, cycling, canoeing, tennis, squash, table tennis  and golf are just a few examples of an array of sports that uses technology to some degree or another. The fact of the matter is that the better the gear used by the athlete, the better the performance.  Even runners use shoes and each athlete chooses the technology that works better for them. So why do we allow athletes to use different technologies on the field but not performance enhancing drugs? I can promise you that the bicycles used by Tour de’ France athletes and the one standing in my garage are significantly different and with a price-tag to prove it. Where is the moral and ethical outcry from the anti-enhancers crowd about the availability of funds and resources to athletes that imbalances the playing field? If the equipment used by athletes does not influence the performance of the athlete and thus the purity of the sport, then why do they use different equipment and why is so much time and money spent on advancing the technologies of the equipment? Even Mr Pistorius, the legendary bladerunner, was quick to point at the prosthetic running limbs of his victorius opponent. Now assuming that Mr Pistorius does indeed follow the research and design of the equipment used in his sport, and I am fairly certain he does this carefully, then one has to assume that his outburst, although never validated, alludes to the fact that the equipment used by the athletes can in fact have a greater impact on who will be victorious than we would like to acknowledge. This is despite the fact that there are rules and regulations in place to regulate the technology used. These regulations do not even the playing-field; they simply set the goal posts for the people who are responsible for the research and design of the equipment. The simply change their focus to not only get the best performance from the equipment (and thus the athlete) but to do so inside of the regulations given by the authorities. The playing field is to a large extent thus still controlled by who has the best backing.

When we take our first breath we breathe in the air provided by our environment, our circumstances, and we have no choice what that might be. There is no such thing as a naturally balanced playing field and at this point we are simply trying to control how much ‘unnatural’ elements we are allowing unto the field, and we are failing dismally. Every cricket match we try to hear the sound of the bookies’ cash registers ringing. The Tour de’ France has been proven a farce for many, many years. Hell, seven of those years were made into a farce by Mr Armstrong himself, and the subsequent winners were no different. I am guessing that since Mr Armstrong is now disqualified there will be new winners announced. Care to wager what we will find when they are investigated with as much zeal and energy as Mr Armstrong was? Professional boxing has become frightfully similar to the Olympic diving event and not too long ago professional F1 drivers had a scandal or two.

I can hear multiple people taking in a deep breath, preparing to hit me with their arguments as soon as I type the following words: Maybe performance enhancing drugs should be legalised? Boom, here it comes. They point at pictures of statistics and crime and yell that we cannot expect the problem to go away just because it is legalised! I am not asking for the problem to go away, I am saying that perhaps we should rethink the problem in its entirety. Is it really a problem?

Of course I am assuming that the health hazards will be dealt with thoroughly.  Any substance that threatens the health of a person or athlete should obviously be considered illegal, if nothing else but to stop the athletes from killing themselves. I wonder if perhaps the health hazards would be able to sort themselves out once we give the research and development departments the freedom to openly investigate these issues. If companies are allowed without shame to pursue the enhancements of athletes, and humans for that matter . . . how far could it go? What else can we discover?

Now I do well understand the fear that by allowing performance enhancers we are possibly attacking the integrity of the sport as the athletes we would be seeing would be unnatural creations sculpted by technology, but the fact is that they already are. They are sculpted by their imbalanced environments and even technology. Training techniques, new discoveries in diets, technological advances in equipment used on and off the field and so forth are all advances in knowledge used to enhance the performance of the athletes. So why are we accepting the use of some of the advances and not others? Why do we allow the availability of funds and resources to enhance certain parts of the athletes and the sports, but not others? I would never in my wildest dreams be able to afford the equipment and training regimes some of these athletes used, and neither would all of their competitors and yet it is an accepted norm. At this point in time I feel that the only true purpose served by the regulating bodies is not so much to stop the use of performance enhancing drugs, as so many have admitted to doing it after the fact, but rather to disqualify those careless enough to get caught.

Now by no means am I arrogant enough to believe that this article is the final say in the argument. If you read carefully you will notice more questions than answers in the article, but I do believe that by systematically and logically answering these questions we would come to a final conclusion, and I dare say at this point it seems to be becoming all the more clear what that conclusion will be. Everything in the world is interconnected at some level or another and in every aspect of our lives our social and technological environment influences our performance on almost every aspect of our lives, be it education, driving or even our love life. We accept these influences without question in our daily lives, so why not in our sports?

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