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Vol. 23, No. 2, 2024
 
     
 
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PROS AND CONS OF A STEROID OLYMPICS


by
CATHERINE ORDWAY AND AARON SMITH

________________________________________________

Catherine is Associate Professor (Sports Management) at the University of Canberra. She lectures in Sports Integrity, Ethics & Law (UG) and Leadership in Sport (UG).

_____________________________________________

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

 

VENTURE CAPITALISTS ARE BACKING A STEROID OLYMPICS

For many, elite sport is the quintessential human endeavour. It drives ferocious competition, captures unconditional tribal loyalty and rewards the victors with fame and fortune.

As the Olympic motto declares, the limits of human performance are there to be tested – faster, higher, stronger. But what would happen if the boundaries were not just pushed, but abandoned altogether?

That’s what PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel wants to do, putting some cash into lawyer Aron D’Souza’s concept of an “Enhanced Games,” where drug testing is out the window and anything goes.

Will venture capital make the Enhanced Games a reality? Despite rhetoric about making sport safer and “the medical and scientific process of elevating humanity to its full potential,” the games are out to make money.

The argument in favour of ‘enhanced’ sport declares the current system dishonest and ineffective, as drug use is supposedly already widespread. It calls for athletes to make their own body-boosting decisions, and for their excellence to be rewarded with a more equitable share of the sport-entertainment loot.

As drug use in sport is here to stay, the argument goes, athletes should be permitted to use every advantage they can to secure success. In the world of hyper-commercialized, spectacle-driven sport theatre, athletes and fans alike are desperate to find out what can be done when anything is possible.

COSTS TO PARTICIPANTS

As experts in sport management and integrity, we have a few concerns with this proposed venture.

It’s not that we’re averse to ‘thinking outside the box’ to shake up existing systems, which are sometimes inequitable and unfair. And we agree there’s always more that can be done to reduce the harm elite athletes’ bodies endure.

However, any enhanced entertainment value would come at a cost to the participants. There’s no shortage of evidence demonstrating the dangers of pharmaceutical abuse for performance enhancement, let alone what might happen when used in experimental combinations and dosages.

Let’s not pretend this will be a kind of harm-reduction strategy to combat banned substance use in sport either, a bit like decriminalizing cannabis.

In the Enhanced Games, athletes would be rewarded for excellence. That means the race to dope, where inevitably more is better, will not be limited to medicines that have been approved for human use.

In addition to damage to athletes, there’s also the damage to sport.

We’d like to think that most committed sport fans would prefer to watch athletes, not injectable avatars. But this event is designed as instantly accessible consumer fodder, not a treat for sporting aficionados.

The Enhanced Games suggests the path to victory is via what many sport fans would regard as cheating. Instead of promoting success via persistence, resilience and hard work, it suggests there is a magic pill or silver bullet for every challenge.

Even if we leave aside the significant health risks of a ‘go for it’ open category of sport (which presents deal-breaking legal and medical ethics concerns anyway), it challenges the very essence of what sport should be about.

Perhaps we’re being idealistic, but what’s the point of sport if it isn’t at least aiming to be authentic? The main thing these games will ‘enhance’ is the existing problems with elite sport.

MORE INEQUALITY AND PROSPECTS FOR EXPLOITATION

The idea of the Enhanced Games seems to proceed from the premise that all participants are adults who can make fully informed decisions about their own short-term goals and long-term health in ways that will affect only themselves. This is unlikely to reflect the reality.

Elite sport is not conducted on a level playing field. Access to money, knowledge, power and technology already gives some athletes an edge over others, and the Enhanced Games would exacerbate these inequalities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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