Doping In Sports - A Moral Or Legal Issue?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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'.
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!
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