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Doping in competitive sports is the usage of banned Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED), and generally refers to as an unethical practice. The regulatory bodies and sport competition organization use the term ‘doping’ to refer to the use of PEDs in sport. As a rule of thumb, doping is unethical, and organizations consider doping prohibited. Moreover, athletic programs and individual players explicitly evade detection through medical measures is also overt cheating and deception. Anti-doping authorities, and other opponents of doping, emphasize on the health risks associated with consumption of performance-enhancing drugs. Additionally, players of the sport need stand by ‘spirit of sport,’ and work on portraying drug-free sport as exemplary for the society. In a similar way, equality of opportunities for athletes is moral argumentation grounded in principles of liberty and equality. Doping does provide leveling playing field to the players, but utilitarianism define the action as ‘wrong’ if reduces the overall wellbeing of the society. Doping reduces the benefits to society in socio-psychological and health terms.

Cheating or Levelling of the Playing Field?

In defense, G. Pascal Zachary argues that the use of PEDs, along with genetic enhancement, can increase overall societal wellbeing through satisfying the need of Übermensch (super human), which results in declining public interest in sports. Übermensch (Super Human) is a concept first presented in the book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” written by Friedrich Nietzsche. Übermensch is the set goal of humanity, and a shift from religion towards human ideal. In a similar way, sports scholar Verner Moller argues that setting different standards for athletes, and conforming to distinctive morals at large is hypocrisy of society. Jen Floyd, writer at Fox Sports, also argues that modern humans are living in pharmacological society. In a similar way, Floyd emphasize on living in modern society that relies on short cuts and faking things for improving the overall satisfaction, but considering sports as the evil empire of cheating means double standards. On the contrary, athletes are doing a similar thing which everyone around are doing, which actually does not the problem.

Goldman’s Dilemma

Furthermore, Goldman’s dilemma asks a question from elite athletes, which was asked by publicist, physician and osteopath Robert M. Goldman. The question explores whether the player will take a drug that could guarantee them overwhelming success in games, but will make them die in five years. The research is extension of the research previously conducted by Mirkin, and illustrates that half of the athletes were willing to actually take the drug despite the odds of dying after five years span. However, modern research (James Connor and co-workers) yield much lower number, and reduced the scope of previous research only to the general population of Australia. These statistics explain the eagerness of players to take PEDs for achieving personal goals and ambitions. The empirical evidence suggesting that half of the participant are actually willing to take drugs that reduces their life longevity means irrational thinking on part of the players. Sports is not only about physical strength or advantage due to genetics; moreover, sports is the show of combining skills, talent, education, dedication, and many other traits.

Doping in Cycling Races

Moller (2008) contends that cyclists are the one to actually pioneer the use of doping for enhancing individual endurance level in the six-day cycle races. The merit of doping is in the form of coping mechanism for cyclists during the race when faced with external pressures, which turned out to be internal integration for professionals of cycling race. The rationale behind doping in cycling is necessity of survival in professional cycling. Additionally, the measures of cycling governing body (UCI) and Anti-Doping agency (WADA) were less effective when viewed in the light of trend that keeps the phenomenon of doping nearly at same level when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came into existence. Participants in sports, especially elite sporting, motivates for actually taking PEDs which will make them put at health risk. PEDs not only effect the physical health, but also effects on psychology of players.

As per World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) statistics for the 2011 World championships in Athletics, forty-four percent of the participants used some kind of banned substances during their respective careers. Additionally, thirty percent of athletes participating in 2011 Athletics admitted use of banned substances at least once in their careers. On the contrary, players were tested for standard procedures and protocols of championship in 2011 Athletics, and the percentage of getting caught was merely 0.5 percent. Moreover, entire track and field team from Russia was ban in the Olympics Game (2016) with allegations of state sponsored and sanctioned doping programs in place. These findings also suggest that the increasing trend of doping has pressurized sports policy makers to view the possibility of benefiting from doping. However, doping’s leveling of the playing field effect benefit the economy more, and to a lesser extent benefits society. Comparing the pros and cons of doping legalization for society are negative in long run; moreover, the attack on the society is of ethical and moral nature.

Level Playing Field

Khan’s (2017) article in Forbes highlighted the nature of elite sports, and stated that game has competitive sporting advantage for players who are gifted; and, the elite sports ‘may be biased against the disadvantage.’ Roomy Khan (2017) is a Personal Finance Expert, and writes, “Each year, over 3000 athletes worldwide test positive for banned substances.” Every athlete is not genetically gifted, and the competitive advantage some player gain over other players due to genetics can be outset with the regularization of doping in sports. Although biological position of each player may be different, but the actual competitive sports does not rely only on the competitive advantage gained from genetics. The sport players capitalize on techniques of the game, natural talent, and drilling that takes place within training sessions. The article outlines the need of some players to opt for biological manipulation through enhancement drugs, which provide level playing field to those who are at disadvantaged position. One of influential proponent of doping for sporting is Julian Savulescu, Oxford Professor, states, “By allowing everyone to take drugs, we level the playing field… we remove the effects of genetic inequality. Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality” – December 31, 2017.

Equity Theory and Doping

In a similar way, Scott & Edwards’ (2017, pp. 31) application of equity theory to the sport of cycling describes the motivation behind some cyclists to utilize Performance Enhancement Drugs (PEDs) for raising their respective competitiveness. The research of Scott & Edwards provides insight into one of the sport, ‘cycling,’ and the use of doping in the sport, which has implications for understanding of general questions pertaining to the ‘level playing field’ effect of doping in sports. Stacy Adams first introduced the equity theory, which can be used to understanding doping behavior amongst players in sporting with case study of cyclists (Adams and Freedman, 1976, p. 48). The equity theory assists in rationalizing the motivational aspect, along with perceived inequity, of doping behavior in the case of cyclists. The research findings of Scott & Edwards (2017) illustrate the desire of players at elite level sporting to become competitive, and the negative emotions associated with inequity, contributed to the continual utilization of doping by cyclists for making the field level playing. Additionally, the research concludes with emphasizing on ‘commercialization of sports’ and ‘cycling sport culture’ as contributing factor towards the behavior of doping through PEDs.

For instance, the physical demands of professional cycle racing, coupled with expectations of the stakeholders, which includes spectators, sponsors, and coaches, has an enormous pressure on cyclists to explore variety of tools and techniques for performance enhancement. Brewer (2002, p. 279) argues that doping was administered openly before the cycling governing bodies changed their attitude towards doping. Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the year 1966 and 1967, respectively, prohibited the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. Doping is not a modern phenomenon, although the intensity at which its reliance has increased in sports, which subsequently brought analyst to argue the legitimization of doping for providing level-playing field in sports. In ancient times, substances were used to increase individual and group performance in chariot racing. For example, combatants and athletes in ancient times were served food, along with treatments aimed at increasing muscles, with the perspective of diet, nutrition, and herbal infusions for strengthening players before chariot races. In recent times, cycling and baseball players’ use of performance enhancing drugs resulted in popular controversies. Not surprisingly, the views of players regarding the PEDs varies significantly, but the sports organizations and authorities have strictly regulated the use of drugs in sport. The opponents of ‘doping legalization’ presents diverse argument, but the philosophical foundation of those arguments lie in the value of not going against ‘spirit of sports.’

For example, ‘Illustrated London News’ discussed the strength and weaknesses of managing to live through a week with an amount of rest, which is infinitesimal, and travelling five hundred miles during 138 hours. Furthermore, discussion involves the lack of sufficient reasoning behind practices, that is, constant repetition of facts. In 1807, Abraham said he used laudanum, containing opiates, for making him able to stay awake for twenty four hours when competing Robert Barclay. Seventy years later, walking races are stretched to five hundred miles, and the next year five hundred and twenty miles at Islington, London. Economy plays its due role in accelerating the process of development, and the popularity of event with each day 20,000 spectators cheering had an encouraging effect on promoters, which paved way for cycling races of similar nature. The resulting impact in the form of six-day bicycle races across the Atlantic and America explains the fascination of the public at large.

Basic finance is at work, that is, with an increase in spectators paying at the gate, the higher the incentive for riders to stay awake through the means PEDs for making the ride of greatest distance. The French word for healer, ‘Soigneurs,’ assisted in exhaustion of the cyclists, and the role is similar to helpers in boxing. The supplies for the event included a drug, Nitroglycerine, which the medical practitioners use in treatment for stimulating heart after a cardiac attack. The cyclists used the drug for improving their breathing during race, which also resulted in the form repercussions, such as hallucinations. Major Taylor refused to continue the race in New York, and stated, “I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.” Eventually, the public reaction turned against the trials of similar nature.

The premise of doping legalization is that the genetics can create an uneven playing field in sports, and doping can assist in making the field even. The opponents of doping reject the premise, and the general argument is the lack of societal concern for ‘uneven playing field.’ The second premise for doping legalization is the elimination of genetic advantage that some participants in sports over other through heavily regulated doping program. The opponents also reject the premise and states that the whole point of sport is to utilize combination of resources for game, such as natural talent, education, biological excellence, and skills, which effects beating of the opponent. The attitude of ‘who could out-dope everyone else’ is an unhealthy attitude, and setting these morals would adversely affect overall societal morals. Henceforth, the premise of creating more even playing field among participants of the sports can actually reduce the world benefit of the society.

Utilitarianism and Doping

Philosophy provides understanding of the moral problem through tools and techniques that analyze the issue under certain assumptions. Utilitarianism is the ethical philosophy of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and is widely used in social sciences for analyzing issues with ethical and moral perspective. The philosophy of utilitarianism states that the action is a right action if it promotes wellbeing of the overall society, and subsequently wrong if it reduces the wellbeing of overall society. The promotion or reduction of wellbeing is the collective wellbeing of the society, and not just the wellbeing of the person taking action. In other words, action does not only effect the wellbeing of the individual taking action, rather involves other people, and places. Three general axioms for analyses of doping within the context of utilitarian tradition are as below:

  1. The only thing with intrinsic value is happiness or pleasure.
  2. Happiness of everyone is equally important.
  3. Actions are simply right if tend to promote wellbeing, and they are wrong when promote unhappiness.

Henceforth, doping tends to promote wellbeing of the participants, and provides level playing field for the participants of the game. It certainly increases the wellbeing of all the players, if doping is a routine process, by removing genetic advantages with some of the players. Additionally, doping does not serve the purpose of sport because sports are not merely for entertainment; instead, sport allows the society to stay vibrant and healthy. Not only the use of PEDs has negative consequences for the players, they also tend to take away the spirit of sport. As the axiom emphasize on the intrinsic value of ‘happiness,’ doping reduces the overall happiness level through faking the process. Legalization of doping can significantly change the tide in favor of society that relies on romantic consumerism.

The second axiom emphasize on the overall happiness of all effected from the action. In the case of doping in sport, whole of the society gets the share, whether socially or economically. On the one hand, doping allows player to give performance at their best, and on the other hand they deprive people of the chance to stay healthy and fit. Artificial life is only going to make society a place for sale and purchase of things that will no longer be meaningful to people. Lastly, the third axiom highlights ‘action’ as right if they promote wellbeing, and doping in sport does promote wellbeing. However, doing SWOT analysis of doping in sports yield different outcomes than expected. For example, doping in sports can provide level playing field to all the players, and can also increase the overall economy of the sport. On the contrary, moral theory of utilitarianism suggest that raising ‘happiness’ level through does not mean that the society are right. If the personal health of a player deteriorates due to the consumption of PEDs then the resulting impact are similar to the Gladiator Games in Ancient Rome. Yes, doping allows for level playing field; however, at the cost of personal health to the player, coupled with overall societal satisfaction level. Although, the increase in crowd at a sport game due to doping use is need of consumerist society, and not the actual satisfaction level of society.


The use of PEDs in sports is on the rise and players from different sporting categories and utilizing drugs to enhance their respective strengths. There exist arguments in favor of doping legalization, and it provides level playing field to players at genetic level. However, it has negative consequences for the health of participants, and negatively contribute to the society where young people finds the phenomenon attractive, and put their respective health’s at risk. The logic is similar to suicide, and taking own life is generally illegal around the world, except for few nations. Allowing PEDs to balance of the genetic advantage is sending negative message to the next generations of human race. The moral philosophy of utilitarianism also points in the direction of categorization doping as ‘wrong’ action because it reduces the wellbeing of overall society, and not just the wellbeing of players. The upward trend of PEDs consumption for sporting purpose is due to the perks and benefits associated with becoming a champion or winning an important game for the team, and nation. Cyclists, with aim of increasing endurance for six-days in race, is also aiming for adverse health outcomes. Although, committing to the drugs despite knowing the consequences is not a rational decision making, and does not benefit society. The legalization of doping will make the field level playing for players in genetic terms, but the socio-psychological and health cost of the doping is higher.


Adams, J.S. and Freedman, S., 1976. Equity theory revisited: Comments and annotated bibliography. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 9, pp. 43-90). Academic Press.

Brewer, Benjamin D. 2002. “Commercialization in Professional Cycling 1950-2001: Institutional Transformations and the Rationalization of Doping”. Sociology of Sports Journal 19: 276–301.

Khan, R. (2017). Doping In Sports – Cheating Or Leveling Of The Playing Field? [online] Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2021].

Moller, V., 2008. The doping devil. Copenhagen: Books on Demand.

Nauright, J. and Zipp, S., 2018. The complex world of global sport.

Scott, M. and Edwards, H., 2017. Equity Theory and Doping in Cycling. FACULTY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES UNIVERSITY OF GUYANA TURKEYEN, GREATER GEORGETOWN GUYANA, pp. 31-45.



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