Let them entertain us: drugs and sport performance
Look at the staff on football teams and it looks like half the coaching team seem to have degrees in sports science. Nutritionists and diet specialist, physios, biomechanical experts, psychologists all now play a role in elite sport activity. Clearly, we’ve strayed very far from the idea of sport as an activity based on the innate individual ability.
With all the emphasis on science, why then do we demonise some scientific breakthroughs that have been proven to enable sports people to reach their potential? I’m talking, of course, about the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Let’s face it: sport is about exploring the limits of human potential. Ingenuity, innovation, and knowledge about what make us faster and stronger—and avoiding what might do more harm than good—has always been part of sport.
It would be much easier to eliminate the anti-doping rules than to eliminate doping. The current policy against doping has proved expensive and difficult to police. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) spent $9,318,880 on 7,498 blood and urine tests, 32 investigations, and the analysis of 1,614 Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs. A total of 29 athletes and support personnel placed on the Register of Findings (RoF) during the reporting year. In the 2009–10 Budget, the Australian Government approved $54.5 million over four years for ASADA activities.
While some may claim that performance enhancers are cheating, the truth is that most of us use them. It’s just that they come out of a bottle or a glass and are served with ice. Alcohol, for example, is the most widely used psychoactive substance in Australia with 1.3 million Australians consuming alcohol daily. Alcohol misuse is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.
Steroids, and synthetic substances similar to testosterone, can be as benign as those that are commonly prescribed for allergies, and as harmful as those that have sent many into physical decline. As with any medication, the effects depend on the dose and frequency of use.
For the most part, however, the only thing bad about steroids is that they may improve athletic performance. Somehow, we have decided that the only hardworking professionals who should not be permitted to enhance their performances are athletes.
People take dietary supplements that act as steroid precursors without any knowledge of the dangers associated with their abuse. Dietary supplements are sold in health food stores, and over the Internet. More than 60 per cent of Australians take supplements, and 27 per cent of Australian women, and 15 percent of men, take a dietary supplement.
Many people no doubt believe that these supplements will produce the same desired effects as steroids, but at the same time avoid the medical consequences associated with using steroids. This belief is dangerous. Supplements may also have the same medical consequences as steroids.
Sports people have always looked for an edge, and why wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you consider taking some substance if it potentially made you better?
Especially if you were in a profession where the average salary was in the millions, and you knew that many other workers in your field might possibly be getting an advantage over you.
It is time to admit that not all steroids are dangerous and that every individual and every situation cannot be addressed with the same set of rigid rules.
The prohibition on doping puts pressure on making performance-enhancers undetectable, rather than safe. They are produced or bought on the black market, and administered in a clandestine, uncontrolled way with no monitoring of the athlete’s health. Allowing the use of performance enhancers would make sport safer as there would be less pressure on athletes to take unsafe enhancers.
Instead of banning steroids, we should control them. Rather than drive doping underground, the use of drugs should be permitted under medical supervision.
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