In sports and athletics, the rationale behind mandatory drug testing has evolved over time. Drug testing began as an intervention to remove any unfair advantage that an athlete who uses drugs might have. This reason was especially valid for drugs such as central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and anabolic steroids–two groups of drugs that are believed to improve physical performance and endurance. The banning of analgesics, which can mask the pain of an injury and can lead to more serious injury, was motivated by a desire to protect athletes from the potentially dangerous drug side effects. Today, drug testing serves additionally as a primary intervention to discourage children and adolescents from using street drugs. In this context, “clean” athletes serve as role models to prevent the youth of today from becoming tomorrow’s addicts and to promote a drug-free society.
Athletes should not be allowed to use steroids because it violates the true meaning and integrity of the game.
Anabolic steroids are used by some athletes in sports that require strength because they promote the growth of skeletal muscle. In addition to their potential for providing users with a possible unfair advantage, steroids trigger a number of potentially serious adverse effects such as hepatic carcinoma, impotence, and jaundice. Steroids are defined as a terpenoid lipid characterized by a carbon skeleton” (Voy and Deeter 23). Currently, the IOC bans substances into five categories: psychomotor stimulants, sympathomimetic amines, miscellaneous CNS stimulants, narcotic analgesics, and anabolic steroids. In addition, blood doping and the use of growth hormones (both discussed below) are prohibited. The most recent practice of “blood doping,” or “blood boosting,” has been the subject of debate. The “boosted” number of red blood cells increases the competitors’ oxygen supply. Several studies have indicated that boosting can improve the performance of trained athletes, although the improvement appears to be a slight one (Mottram 82). Growth hormone is a powerful anabolic substance that affects all body systems and plays an important role in muscle growth. It is released from the anterior pituitary gland in response to a variety of stimuli including exercise, sleep, stress, and the administration of a variety of drugs and amino acids. Growth hormone administration to normal animals leads to muscle hypertrophy, but this muscular growth is not accompanied by increased strength. Growth hormone excess leads to acromegaly, a disease with significant morbidity, including a myopathy in which muscles appear larger but are functionally weaker. Attempts to control drug use by athletes through drug testing and education have increased considerably in recent years, as has the amount of public attention to the use of drugs by athletes (Voy and Deeter 32).
The philosophical considerations behind the rationale for drug usage in an athletic context are based on the violations of legal rules and the nature of the sport itself. Sport is defined as an activity governed by the rules and physical capabilities of competitors. The aim of the sport is to determine the most strong and psychically developed competitor. Steroids violate these rules and prevent fair competition and rivalry (Voy and Deeter 35). To enhance athletic performance, anabolic steroids must be taken over a long period of time (weeks or months), well before any competition. In contrast to psychomotor stimulants, anabolic steroids tend to stay in the body for relatively long periods, making their detection much less dependent on testing immediately after use. Among the milder side effects are acne, premature baldness, prostate enlargement and inflammation, increased aggressiveness, testicular atrophy, and reduced sperm production. In adolescents, the use of anabolic steroids causes premature closure of the growth centers of long bones (Mottram 81). Thus, such individuals will not be as tall as they would have been having they had not used the drug. In females, anabolic steroid use results in side effects such as masculinization, abnormal menstrual cycles, and irreversible changes such as excessive body and facial hair, enlargement of the clitoris, and deepening of the voice.
Using steroids in Sport can be compared with cheating. There is no denying that the use of any performance-enhancing drug is contrary to the basic spirit and intent of athletic competition; it distorts the very nature of the sport. The competition should be decided on the basis of who has done the best job of perfecting and utilizing his or her natural abilities, not on the basis of who has the best pharmacist. If the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is so widespread, and other athletes feel they must use them to compete successfully, why not drop the prohibition against these drugs and let everyone use them? (Mottram 32). That would certainly eliminate the need for testing, with all of its attendant problems and costs, and everyone would then presumably be on an equal footing again in competition. The answer to this argument is complex, involving a number of medical, ethical, and philosophical considerations. It basically comes down partly to health and safety considerations, but primarily it is a question of whether or not the basic nature of sport should be maintained or drastically changed. However, it is becoming clear that some of the more dangerous long-term side effects of anabolic steroid use include psychoses, kidney dysfunction, liver disease, including cancer, and alterations in serum lipid profiles that indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. In recent years there has been a small but growing number of documented deaths of young athletes attributed to anabolic steroid use, primarily among powerlifters and body-builders, the sports that have the longest history of steroid use (Voy and Deeter 77). Considerations of the long-term health and safety of the athlete, therefore, are important reasons for continuing the ban on the use of these substances. Most importantly, however, dropping the ban on performance-enhancing drugs in sport would also entail a major revision of the nature of competition. The athletic competition traditionally has been between individuals or groups of individuals based on the development and skillful use of their bodies and their natural abilities. It is known that drugs such as anabolic steroids react differently in different bodies. Some individuals may gain a great deal of strength from the use of the drugs, while others may gain very little (Mottram 57). Therefore, the use of these substances by all athletes would introduce a new element into sport: the innate ability of the body to respond to the drugs. So, another basic argument for the continued ban of these substances is that sport should be a competition between individuals, based on the development and utilization of their natural physical and mental skills; it should not be reduced to an assessment of the ability of their bodies to benefit from the ingestion of drugs (Voy and Deeter 71).
In sum, the use of steroids and other drugs in sport violates basic rules and aims of sport based on fair competition and the physical abilities of competitors. Certainly, an important reason not to drop the prohibitions against performance-enhancing drugs involves the long-term health and safety of the athlete. The use of anabolic steroids, particularly the extremely large dosages used by athletes, carries with it a great risk of a number of adverse side effects, ranging from mild to deadly.
Mottram, D. Drugs in Sport. Routledge; 3 edition, 2003.
Voy, R., Deeter, K. D. Drugs, Sport, and Politics. Human Kinetics Publishers, 1991.