Saturday, March 30, 2013

What's Wrong With Doping?

A while ago, the news exploded with the reports that Lance Armstrong had, in fact, claimed his Tour de France wins while using performance enhancing drugs, vehemently denying doing so the entire time. In addition to the usual outcries of hypocrisy, this lead to a resurgence of the debate over the drugs themselves. What's the big deal? What if everyone else is using them? As this xkcd comic points out, aren't they just a collection of chemicals that we put into our bodies along with the other chemicals we consume? What makes doping different from a strict, scientifically tuned diet or precision-engineered equipment?

Well, I have had time to collect my thoughts, and I have this question to ask:

Why not let him ride a motorcycle?

The thing is, sport is not about flat achievement; it is about achievement with hand-tying. The Tour de France is not a competition to see who can cross the Alps the fastest, it a competition to see who can cross the Alps the fastest taking this certain route, on this certain type of bicycle, with this many teammates, following this schedule, etc. It is the rules that define the sport, and Lance broke those rules just the same as if he had been driving an Indy car.

Well, okay. I think most everyone can agree that breaking the rules is wrong. But the deeper question is, why not change the rules? Why not alter the sport to make it one that tests what the true limits of what the human body can do? To answer this, I point back to my question about the motorcycle. If Lance Armstrong were to complete the Tour de France on a Suzuki, we wouldn't consider the feat to be nearly as impressive. Sure, we might give him credit for being able to maneuver the course, but we wouldn't praise him for his speed. He wouldn't be the one who provided the speed, he wouldn't have worked for it; it would have been given to him by the machine.

In the same way, doping gives up the credit to something outside the athlete. They may select the food that their body converts into energy and strength when they train, but doping changes their hormones and alters the way their body works. How much of the credit is truly theirs, then? Someone on steroids may achieve greater results, but not by virtue of their own effort.

And that's what it really comes down to: steroids provide an easy way up. Maintaining a diet is hard. Training is hard. Doping is a short cut.

Sport is about reaching goals that have been made hard on purpose; short cuts have no place in it.

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