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Doping In Sports - A Moral Or Legal Issue?


Posted by Neil B under Cycling, Track Athletics, Running, Football (Soccer), Boxing on 24 March 2013 at 12:00 AM

Doping in sport is a serious issue and is one that does not look like going away quickly. How to effectively tackle doping in sport and what the appropriate sanctions for doping offences should be are among some of the strongest debates in sport. Is it a legal or a moral issue? Here we explore the issue in more detail.

Lance Armstrong - Doper

Recently doping in sport has been thrust into the media and public spotlight more than ever. The Lance Armstrong doping scandal has opened the sportsmanship debate up worldwide. While it had long been suspected that doping was rife in sports such as international cycling, the revelations the USADA (United States of America Doping Agency) report into Lance Armstrong and cycling brought doping to the forefront of peoples thoughts. The shocking truths about the depths of doping and deception Armstrong and many others had gone to, and the years spent vehemently denying these accusations presented an important consideration. Is doping in sports a moral or legal consideration? Is it purely a question of moral sportsmanship or should there be more serious, legal implications to doping? The fact that Armstorng repeatedly sued people who accused him of doping, hitting them both financially and career-wise, is a whole other level of moral debate, that I won't go into in this article. However, the question remains; should doping in sport be a moral or legal issue?

Cycling Australia - Legal Issues

The debate as to whether doping should just be a moral question of sportsmanship and fair play, or should be taken into the legal realm was brought to a head in February when it emerged that Cycling Australia was considering putting a legal framework behind the control of doping. They propose to have riders sign a statutory declaration about doping, with the potential for criminal prosecution for those who are found to have lied. This legal framework and the possibility to prosecute dopers would completely change the system of doping control. While currently doping is considered a moral consideration, whereby those who dope fall well below standards of sportsmanship and fair play required and expected in sport, and thus can be banned from competing; a change like this would shift the goalposts altogether. The threat of imprisonment and financial ruin that such a legal framework could provide may produce a more effective method of policing doping in sport. Clearly current anti-doping control efforts are not producing effective enough controls and disincentives to doping.

However, there are a number of factors to consider when discussing the issue of doping as either a moral or legal issue. Firstly there is the issue of whether doping in sport should be dealt with from a legal point of view at all. Does a doping offense warrant criminal sanctions?? How can you justify it becoming part of the legal sphere? Leading sports law lawyer, Gregory Ioannides has argued that there is justification for the application of criminal law for anti-doping violations due to the theory of "public interest", whereby not only can doping be dangerous to the athletes involved, but it is also dangerous and destructive to society. He argues that the application of criminal law on doping in sport has a moral element; but because it is not enforcing the morality of a 'political or elitist will', but is enforcing the will of society, it wouldn’t be prejudice against any minorities or individuals and so is applicable in law. As such, proceeding with legal action in relation to doping in sport is acting in the public interest, therefore a state, rather than private governing body should be allowed to pass legal judgement.

World Anti-Doping Agency

Dwain Chambers - Doping

Even if doping in sport was to remain purely a moral consideration and continue to be overseen by governing bodies, rather than a legal consideration, there is surely more scope to enforce harsher regulations to make the disincentives to cheating far stronger. In the recent London 2012 olympics, we saw an example of someone who had previously been found guilty of doping, competing and winning a gold medal in the Men's Cycling Road Race. Alexander Vinokourov, from Kazakhstan, claimed Gold in the Road Race, despite previously serving a two-year ban for blood-doping in 2007. Similarly, Dwain Chambers was back competing for Great Britain, despite previously having been banned for using the designer steroid THG. Admittedly, the British Olympic Association had tried to enforce a life time ban on drugs cheats, but this was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as it went against World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. 

Surely more can be done from a purely moral regulatory stand point. If every athlete was aware that getting caught using banned substances or techniques would result in a lifetime ban from sport, far more athletes would think twice about doping. Clearly there is more than just the athlete to consider in many doping cases, with pressure coming from outside influences, but fundamentally, if an athlete knows they will be banned for life for doping, then they are less likely to do it.

Tony Thompson

There are also those who argue, that the only way doping in sport can be effectively controlled, is to legalize it. By legalizing doping in sport, governing bodies would be able to keep track of what doping was happening and would stop the underground production of potentially dangerous drugs. These people argue that if doping was open to everyone, then it creates a fairer playing field than there currently is, as it then becomes available to everyone, so the playing field will be levelled. Indeed American heavyweight boxer, Tony Thompson; a man who has fought for world titles on two occasions, recently commented that he thought drugs should be made legal in sport.  However, I personally wholeheartedly disagree with this viewpoint. This would actually increase the pressure on athletes to dope, as more people would be doping. This immediately puts those who refuse to dope at a significant disadvantage and could ultimately lead to a two way split in sport, between doping and non-doping athletes. On top of this, it would also completely devalue and destroy the integrity of sport and take away one of the key reasons why people love sport so much.

Sport is about watching athletes at the peak of physical performance; a level that they have achieved through hard work and determination and most of all with integrity and sportsmanship; athletes like Usain Bolt. They have reached levels most amateur sportsmen could only dream of reaching, and it is the fact that they have done so in a moral, clean and sportsmanlike way that makes it such an amazing spectacle. Legalizing doping, although it may give some of the control back to the governing bodies, would in my opinion completely devalue the whole concept of 'sport' and 'competing'.

Usain Bolt - Peak Physical Performance

Whether or not doping in sport is purely a moral or legal consideration will be a debate that will rage on and on. Furthermore, whether making doping a legal consideration is enforceable or not has still to be fully determined and of course there are lots of areas that need to be considered that this article has not even touched upon. However, it is my opinion that, even if legal sanctions cannot be introduced into anti-doping regulations, then far stricter sanctions need to be imposed by governing bodies. An athlete should be under no illusions that committing doping offences will result in the end of their careers as an athlete, as well as all of those involved in facilitating the doping. Sport is sport, because of the sportsmanship, fair play, hard work and determination involved in getting to the top. If doping is not clamped down on or it is legalized, then the fundamental draw of competitive sports is removed. However, while significant efforts have gone into to fighting doping in sport, an effective  anti-doping regulatory regime has yet to be established as there are still many athletes who are doping going undetected for far too long. Clearly it is an incredibly difficult thing to attempt to police and catching everyone that chooses to dope seems an almost impossible task. However, this should in no way mean that a completely doping free sporting world should not continually be strived for. I for one, believe that imposing far stricter penalties on those who do dope, would represent a significant step forward in the fight against doping in sports. 

What are your views on doping in sport? Is it a moral or legal consideration? Do we need harsher punishments or does it need to be legalised to allow closer control of doping practices? Have your say in the Blog below!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    It's both a legal and a moral issue... Sponsors sink thousands of dollars into these people's supposed "sheer athletic ability" and they market products based on those athletes' success. Even the stock market can change with different teams' success and that's a big deal for us all. TV ads, magazine ads, I don't know the exact numbers but those cost a lot of money and players earn a lot of money from those ads. If they earn it based on doped performance, they haven't earned their money and therefore, don't deserve it. More importantly the moral factors play probably the biggest part in this whole doping issue. The clean athletes base their whole lives on an eat, sleep, train lifestyle, they work hard for their spots. It's unfair for someone to swoop in, who's been unfairly juiced up, and take what the clean athletes earned. There's a big difference between earning and doing, if you don't earn your spot in sports cleanly, you shouldn't be allowed in. Thousands of people young and old, look up to athletes. They take inspirational stories from them, they place bets on who will win, they watch them on TV. The Olympics roll around, millions of people around the world are cheering on their favorite teams and athletes. If it's not clean, what are we watching, what are we cheering for? We'd be cheering for false talent and that's purely wrong. Athleticism is competitive and it's not always fair for all parties involved but that doesn't mean it has to be unfair for those who work hard and train hard. Even if they're raising money for a good cause, that's still doped and dirty money and nobody needs that feeling around them, especially those who admire athletes... It's like a big lie, it's shameful to see athletes who used to have raw talent, waste it all just to get a little bigger or a little better because they couldn't just be happy and proud of what they had to start with. Sometimes you can't be the biggest and the best, but you can still keep your pride by staying clean. Doping should be kept illegal, mainly for the moral reasons (to me anyways). That would be like someone getting plastic surgery to lose weight but lying to everybody around them and essentially making up an inspiring story, when the admirers found out, they'd be crushed! They might even lose hope in themselves thinking "Wow they used steroids? I guess I'll never be able to do something so well with natural talent." In today's world, we need clean inspiration and hope :)


    " Doping in Sports is indeed BOTH a Moral & Legal issue. Penalties for those found guilty of the act, should be stricter than what it already is. It is Moral, because doping takes away the essence of what true Sportsmanship is all about. Even as children, we were taught the importance of Fairplay, Honestly, Teamwork, doing your best & most importantly : " Being true to oneself ". All of these qualities are paramount in the sporting arena . It is also Legal, due to the fact that once an athlete goes Pro....Money, Sponsorship, Contract agreements, Advertising etc come into play. The althle no longer operates solo, in a private corner. He's in the public domain, with people supporting him....... FINANCIALLY. Should he or she defraud those that been supporting them ( in this case, by doping ) They should be dealt with...... Harshly & Legally! "

    encouraged this.


    It should be both be a moral and judicial issue in the case of doping. Professional athletes in particular involve financial contracts with ethical and moral clauses attached to their acceptance. When a contract is broken there should be legal ramifications. Remember that many of our professional athletes are involved in charities as a part of their profession and employment. The effect of doping reaches well beyond their own personal sphere and needs to be considered. In the case of Lance Armstrong he should be held accountable for all the lives that his vehement lying about doping impacted in a negative way. In my book you don't take on a contract if you can't meet the expectations that it puts forth. What is the point of a competition if you are always the winner?

    Allan J encouraged this.


    Certainly a moral issue, but also ultimately a legal concern that should be dealt with by the legal system. Banned substances, i.e. drugs, in the mainstream society are dealt with by the law and appropriate sanctions put in place, both to deter and to protect the community. Likewise, the sporting arena needs to be held accountable and dealt with objectively by our legal system.

    encouraged this.


    @janeh - the comparison between illegal substances and banned substances in sport is not a fair one though - the substances which athletes take are not necessarily illegal, they are just seen to give an unfair advantage in competitive sport. You can buy protein powders which contain substances which are banned in competitive sport, but if you are using them for muscle gain outside of competitive sport then they are legal. These substances are not illegal for the average Joe to use, just elite athletes

    Jane H and Adrian K encouraged this.


    Of course, explained like that you are right Cags, I was thinking more along the lines of illegal drugs in general, shows my ignorance on the topic of drugs, illegal or not! Perhaps the public needs to be better educated too?


    Both a moral & legal issue. If you look at the Armstrong case, he sued dozens of people who said he doped and ruined numerous careers. Can these people ever get back what they've lost now? Yet, there has not been anymeaningful recompense offered to these people from Armstrong. Morally (& probably) legally he should, but he wont. He still doesn't understand he did wrong if you watched his interview. Does the good he did for cancer (and it wasn't for research) outweigh the harm he did to the people who's careers & livelihoods were wrecked irretreivably? In general now, who actually believes anyone at the top of their sports field isn't doing drugs. People I talk to just assume everyone is on something. Usain Bolt - is he clean or is he dirty? He's so good a lot of people say he must be using something. But there's no evidence to say he is, he passes all his tests (as did Armstrong). Are there any clean cyclists in this world today - the same people who have been caught before are still riding. Are they better cheats now? Val Adams, from NZ, hasn't lost a competition for years in shot-put - is she a cheat, her nearest competition was/is. Again hasn't failed a test, but ... Who can you trust? Anyone who gets caught should be banned for life. That way there is no way they can ever come back and acts as a real deterent & not further throw the sport into disrepute. People will always cheat. Can't throw them in jail as the drugs they're taking aren't strictly illegal on the street - just if you're an athlete. The playing field will never be level, but we should be trying to make it as close as possible.

    Kara A encouraged this.


    It is similar to the restrictions on swimsuits in professional swimming - technology was giving swimmers who swam in Speedo full body suits too significant an advantage over other swimsuits - the suit is still available to buy but you can't compete in the Olympics in it!

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    The issue of doping is so unbelievably complex, so many technicalities involved, as Cags mentioned - what about other unfair aspects of sport? Advanced training facilities, funding for athletes, training equipment, coaching etc? Couldn't having access to the best drugs just be an extension of many of the other advantages that can already be gained? I reject the general publics disgust at athletes who are caught doping - in many cases they would have felt unbelievable pressure and an inevitability towards doping if they wanted to make it to the top. It's different in cases like Armstrongs where he was supposedly actively the ring leader, and suing people who called him out on it. However I also agree with Neils point - if doping was legal, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking PED's myself at present, I don't know anything about them and not many people do - there is so much mis-information, vilification and scaremongering about drugs in general in mainstream media and politics that real research is often blocked. Like I say, its a massively complex issue and one that nobody REALLY knows a lot about - whether they approve of disapprove. There is a great, well balanced documentary on the issue called, Bigger Faster Stronger, which I would recommend 100% for anyone with even the slightest interest in the politics and science behind doping.


    To answer the question posed in the title however - if you are in a competition where doping is banned and you know it, then unquestionably you are breaking the moral code and the rules of the competition. If you have made personal gains at the expense of others then you should also be held legally accountable - lose your governing body sponsorship, refund your commercial sponsors (depending on how much net gain / loss they have had as a result of your actions), hand over your winnings to your competitors. This would serve as more of a deterrent with the increased level of financial risk involved. And I think its a better solution than banning the athlete outright, which is very severe as a universal punishment when not all infringements will be the same level of seriousness.


    I disagree with your 'same level of seriousness' - I believe athletes who are taken on to professional level or a level at which they are sponsored for their performance in sport should have to sign an agreement that they will not take Performance Enhancing Drugs. Full Stop. Doesn't matter if it was only one time, athletes know that what they are doing is wrong. This would also act as a deterrent to coaches and team doctors as the money and time that has been put into that athlete would all be wasted if the athlete is caught using PEDs

    William B encouraged this.


    But in my opinion there is though, yes they were all wrong but that doesn't mean that all offences were as bad as one another - just as in criminal law. What about the difference between athletes who unknowingly or negligently broke the rules, versus those who deliberately have been taking and planning to avoid tests? Or the amount of time a drug was used? E.g. if an athlete only doped for one month several years ago, wasn't caught but then made the decision to never do it again, versus someone who has been doping and breaking the rules their whole career without remorse? What about someone like Lance who was bringing the entire sport into disrepute - are they all really equally bad?


    I agree that in a case where someone has unknowingly taken a banned substance that this is a lesser level of seriousness. Look at the skier Alan Baxter who had his bronze medal at the salt lake city winter Olympics taken off him because of a trace of a banned substance, that had no performance enhancing properties and had been unwittingly inhaled through a Vicks inhaler for colds, bought in the USA, unaware that the contents were different to those that are bought in the UK. In cases like this, it seems incredibly harsh and improper to disqualify or remove medals. However, the problem lies in proving that it was a mistake and they had no knowledge of it. However, i think it is dangerous to start distinguishing between different levels of doping that you mention above Adrian. Doping is doping, if the athlete has made the "CHOICE" to dope, even just for one month in their life, this should warrant a ban. Classing some types of doping as less bad than others sends out completely the wrong message in my opinion. Athletes should have an understanding that if they are caught using banned substances to enhance their performance, then they will be banned for life, along with everyone around them that facilitated their cheating. Clearly there are instances where there are legitimate and innocent excuses for failing a drugs test, where it has been failed for performance enhancing benefits, in my opinion there should be one punishment for all, no matter the scale of their cheating.


    I can understand the logic behind it if it were to be introduced universally, it would be interesting to see lifetime bans implemented with an amnesty period - we may see quite a lot of athletes times and totals dropping. However, even if they were to implement life bans, there will still be those who get away with it. Testing is not extensive enough, and just like with hacking - those who are developing will always be one step ahead of those preventing. And there will still be champions who benefit from doping, despite the threat of a lifetime ban - and if / when they are eventually caught - everyone will just be disappointed and upset again. The punishment won't be much a of a consolation to all of the broken hearted and bitter fans, or fix the false histories written in the record books.


    Any infringement of the rules should be punished. If you took for 1 month, ten years ago is the same as taking for the last 10 years. You knowingly took it, knew the consequences, you're gone, end of story. The people who "accidently" take a banned substance also need banning in my opinion. It is there responsibility to know what they are putting into their body. Where it can be proven it was accidental shorten the ban to 2 years (current max ban) - sends a message. This way the sportsman who pleads ignorance by saying "But my coach said it was ok" is made to question everything given to him (or brought of the shelf). Any sportsman who is found guilty of doping should be legally tried for fraud if they have recieved sponsorship or other rewards because of their success. All sponsorship & prize money returned - through court process if necessary. FINA may have banned the LZR swimsuit from Olympics/WC/etc but all the records made while swimmers were wearing still stand today - they were not removed from the record books.

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