lunes, 1 de agosto de 2016

Should Doping in Sports Be Allowed?

          The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics will seem to be starting on the wrong foot. Amidst a political crisis that removed from power President Dilma Rouseff last May, there are widespread allegations that Brazil is just not prepared to hold an event of such importance. Accommodation problems have prompted athletes from many delegations to relocate to hotels and elevate complaints.
            Yet, even if the Olympics were held in a politically stable country with high levels of efficiency, we all expect what has already become a ritual while watching this sporting event every four years: some athlete, in some competition, will fail a doping test. The Rio de Janeiro Olympics have not even begun, and there is already controversy. The International Olympic Committee seriously considered suspending the Russian delegation in toto, only to withdraw the ban in the last minute. However, the controversy remains.

           The phantom of doping in sports, and especially in the Olympics, truly began to haunt us with Ben Johnson’s suspension in the Seoul Olympics, back in 1988. Ever since, great stars have risen and fallen (Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Diego Maradona, Barry Bonds, and many others), and it now seems that the genie is out of the bottle. Inasmuch as this is becoming a monster, there is the growing that perception that the ban on doping is very much analogous to the War on Drugs: a useless effort that creates more problems than it solves.
            Ethicists have paid attention to this debate for some time. The standard argument in favor of banning enhancement in sports is quite simple. Doping substances can be quite dangerous, and this is a slippery slope towards long-term destruction for the sake of immediate satisfaction. There is also the issue of fairness: do we want to reward athletes for their discipline, effort and natural talent? Or, do we want to reward multinational corporations and powerful countries that, in a sense, buy medals by investing huge amounts of money on biomedical research and use athletes as their pawns?
            Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel has warned that there are some things that money just cannot buy. Sports are already very much a mercantile endeavor. Critics complain sporting events are no longer about comradeship and the display of natural talents; but rather, a cold, money-producing machine. Were doping allowed, Sandel and other critics advert, it would further deteriorate the original sporting spirit.
         Furthermore, Sandel has argued that we must accept gifts given by nature. By this, he means that humanity must acknowledge its limitations, and come to the recognition that some things are and must be beyond our control. In his words: “To acknowledge the giftedness of life is to recognize that our talents and powers are not wholly our own doing, nor even fully ours, despite the efforts we expend to develop and to exercise them”.
       But, as usual, not all ethicists agree. Oxford philosopher Julian Savalescu has made a name defending the use of bio-technologies, including enhancement in sports. Most contemporary sports already rely on aid from technological means. It simply isn’t true that, in sports, we accept unconditionally nature’s gifts. The choice of equipment, trainers, and even surgeries, have a significant role in determining who gets a medal, and who doesn’t. It seems arbitrary to allow these technological supports, and at the same time, ban enhancement drugs.
        There is the usual complaint that enhancement would increase the gap between rich and poor nations in sports competitions. But, Savalescu believes it could actually produce the opposite effect. Poorer nations already have great difficulties in training athletes, because the available allowed technologies are not affordable by all. Lifting the ban on doping, by contrast, would be an opportunity for poorer nations to have a better shot at winning, inasmuch as they would be in a position to use enhancement technologies that may be easily commercialized and available to all.
       As for safety, Savalescu admits that, indeed, some enhancing drugs in sports are unsafe. But, many are not. There is always a degree of risk in substances, but in fact, all sports are susceptible to injuries. Regulation would surely be needed. But, in order to enforce efficient regulation, only truly harmful substances should be banned. Otherwise, over-regulation can become a hindrance, as officials would be concerned with a huge number of cases, many of which would go undetected; a black market would easily arise, as it already is the case.
     Ideally, there should be no doping scandals in the upcoming Rio Olympics. Realistically, there will most likely be some. As you watch this great sporting event, you may very well ask yourself: what can be done? As usual, ethical discussions will not provide an immediate answer. But, it will surely provide sufficient information and reflection, in order to make the most reasonable decision.

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