Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Some thoughts about doping

Sunday was a sad day for track and field athletics as for example Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were caught from doping. Or actually it was a great day, dopers were caught. The sad day was when they competed doped.

But does it make sense to fight against doping? Is doping really such a bad thing? Come on, doping is cheating only because it's banned. If it weren't banned, doping wouldn't be cheating, only trying to improve one's performance.

In my opinion, the weakest argument against PEDs is that they are expensive and not available for everybody. There are also legal but expensive ways to improve one's performance, for example the CVAC pod used by e.g. Novak Djokovic and the altitude tent used by e.g. cross-country skiers.

Another argument against PEDs is that they reduce the importance of the athletes' skills. But there are already sports where the equipment plays a big role; improved racquet and string technology has changed tennis, and skis can play a big role in skiing. So why would PEDs by any different? Well, one argument against them is their adverse health effects. But do athletes need this kind of protection; we've seen there are dopers anyway? And in 1990s and early 2000s cycling, one needed to use PEDs to succeed. And some sports like Alpine skiing require risking one's health to compete.

But the biggest reason why I'm against the use of PEDs is really that improved fitness reduces the importance of skills. We can see that already in tennis, even though there haven't been at least reported doping cases. The slowed-down surfaces have given an advantage for the fittest players with great defensive abilities. The skilled shotmakers have a hard time if they can't defend well and a player needs to be strong to hit through the defense of the fittest players. Tennis used to be a game where you needed to have great skills and sufficient fitness; nowadays you need to have great fitness and sufficient skills. PEDs would make the game even more about fitness and strength at the expense of skills. And I really don't want that. Yeah, I said there are also other things that take away the importance of skills. And yes, for example in tennis I wouldn't be against more regulated equipment, but that's another story.

But it's up to the sports associations to keep sports free of doping. Doping would enable a longer competition season which would be good for the business. And doping would enable even greater records, so there are reasons why sports associations might be keen to allow the use of PEDs and cover up doping cases. And of course, a doping case is negative publicity for the sport. Still, there was something positive in the doping cases of Gay, Powell, and four other athletes. It's good to see that the international athletics federation doesn't cover the doping cases of big names. Hopefully most other sport associations would do the same, but I'm sceptical about it.

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