Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Fairness and Performance-Enhancing Drugs
There is an ongoing debate about the use of performance-enhancing substances such as steroids, human growth hormone, and EPO amid scandals and allegations involving elite athletes such as Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, and Roger Clemens, among others. One argument often given against the use of performance-enhancing drugs is as follows:
(1) The use of certain performance-enhancing substances constitutes a form of cheating.
(2) Therefore, the use of such substances is fundamentally unfair.
(3) Such unfairness should not be allowed in sport.
(C) The use of certain performance-enhancing substances should not be allowed.
There is some initially plausibility to this argument. It does strike one as unfair that a cyclist might win a race because he used EPO, when his opponents did not. However, as W.M. Brown points out in his "As American as Gatorade and Apple Pie: Performance Drugs and Sports," this argument misses the point in an important way. If we are considering whether or not the bans in professional leagues and international competitions like the Olympic Games should be in place, then arguing that they should be forbidden because they are against the rules is not relevant and begs the question. What is required is a justification for the rules themselves.
Moreover, another problem arises when considering issues related to fairness. There are numerous inequalities that might lead one to conclude unfairness is simply a part of sport. For example, financial resources, quality of equipment, availability of well-funded training centers, excellence of coaching, and so on could create inequalities that directly or indirectly impact athletic performance. The upshot is that we need an argument showing why some inequalities are acceptable, whereas others are not. My own view is that introducing at least some performance-enhancing substances is wrong, though I'll save my reasons for that position for a later post.