Every time that there is a major doping scandal associated with sports, like the recent one in which Lance Armstrong was portrayed as essentially a drug kingpin who “didn’t just take drugs: he was the enforcer of a small mafia within professional cycling that moved ruthlessly against anyone who threatened to expose him or his collaborators. He bullied and threatened team-mates, journalists and fellow cycling professionals and officials”, calls emerge that maybe we should simply allow it.
The argument in favor of doing so tends to be a mixture of libertarian philosophy (if athletes want to risk their health and even lives by ingesting these drugs they should be allowed to do so, since it is their own bodies) and a sense of futility (it seems hopeless to achieve a level of policing that would eliminate it altogether so the present policy of banning it mainly hurts honest athletes). So why not make it an option open to anyone?
Matt Seaton argues that the idea that legalizing doping would level the playing field is fallacious because the best doping protocols are very expensive and allowing doping would enable only those with the biggest budgets to be successful.
Thanks to the Usada report, we know what the best doping programme money can buy looks like. And thanks to the 1998 Festina scandal, we also know what the cheap and desperate version looks like: a random cocktail of drugs stashed in the back of a car driven by a soigneur who was high himself, paid for by an impoverished French team from pooling the winnings of their meagre results.
Legalising this situation would only rubber-stamp what was already happening: a pharmacological arms race that ensured dominance for the best-funded, most professionally managed doping scheme (USPS/Discovery’s), but which was a game of Russian roulette with their health for the sport’s poor relations (teams like Festina). No one in their right mind wants to go back there.
He asks rhetorically at the end, “In the end, the choice is a simple one. Who would you prefer to see winning the Tour de France: the greatest cyclist in the world or the dope-cheat with the biggest budget?”
This is why I am increasingly disenchanted with professional sports.