Sport and Drugs: An example of deviant behaviour

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The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport is only one example of what appears to be an increase in deviant behaviour in sport over the last 40 years. Other examples of deviant behaviour, where participants attempt to gain an unacceptable unfair advantage over their competitors, include the ‘professional foul’, intentional disregard for the rules and the use of modern technology. Advantages are also obtained by social and economic position and by rights of birth but these advantages are not considered unfair.

For example should people who happen to live in a mountainous environment be banned from Winter Olympic events because they have an advantage over lowland people? Should Africans who have an advantage over lowland people in distance events because they live their lives at altitude be banned from these events? Should those people born with the social and economic advantages over others because they can afford the best equipment and coaches also be banned from sport because they make use of their advantages.

Many of these advantages are considered legitimate and not punished by sports authorities. So why is the use of drugs considered unfair advantage and the people who use them singled out for special treatment? Throughout sport history athletes have attempted to gain advantage by one means or other. Harold Abrahams, a British sprinter in the 1920 Olympic Games, was ostracised by his team mates because he employed a coach and was considered, by the values of the time, as a cheat. This paper discusses some of the issues surrounding the use of performance enhancing substances in sport.

Rarely has their been a more emotive issue in sport than the use of drugs to enhance performance. Most people have a view on this issue, sometimes based on their age. For sure the sports world is divided on the issue and what, if anything, can be done about it if indeed it is an issue worth doing something about. By its very nature a philosophical discussion about the use of performance enhancing substances in sport impinges on discussions about fair play, equal opportunities and athlete as role module. The use of drugs in sport

The use of drugs in sport has been widely reported by the media in recent years to the extent that many people consider it to be a modern day phenomenon. There is evidence, however, of a long history of the use of drugs in sport to enhance performance that can be traced to Greek times (Cashmore, 1996). Athletes at the Greek Olympics were reported to have taken various substances to improve their performances (Coakley, 1994). The winner of the sprint at the Olympic Games in 668 BC was reported to have taken a diet of dried figs.

The Ancient Egyptian athletes used a drink made from asses’ hooves and Roman Gladiators used stimulants to maintain energy levels. So why is the use of drugs considered a contemporary phenomenon? Deaths of sportsmen from amphetamine abuse in the 1960s (Coakely, 1994) indicates how widespread drug abuse had become, which led the authorities to attempt to eradicate the problem. The widespread increase in the use of drugs from the 1960s was due to the following factors: * The more liberal approach to drug experimentation in society generally changed attitudes towards drug users, making it more socially acceptable. The advances in the pharmacology and medical professions made more effective drugs more widely available. * The ‘professionalisation’ and the ‘commercialisation’ of sport, with increased media coverage and the resulting increased financial rewards for elite athletes, has made the temptation to take drugs stronger. Elite sport has moved from a leisure time activity for the advantaged few to paid employment open to everyone with the ability and desire. With this move has come a change in the sports ethos, which many people regret. Problems with drug testing in sport

Despite the efforts of sport authorities to curb drug abuse in sport from the 1960’s the advances in the medical profession usually kept athletes a step ahead of the authorities. Drug abuse today has increased in sophistication, using the most advanced pharmacological technology and often with the support of some governments. In an attempt to keep drug abuse under control the sport authorities have identified an ever-increasing number of illegal substances, some of which are found in everyday medicines. The drug testing procedures themselves have even been successfully challenged in the courts. e. g. Butch Reynolds was awarded 27. 3m dollars in the USA courts against IAAF for wrongful banning following a test. Diane Modahl sought compensation and the overturning of her ban after showing that the drug-testing procedure was faulty. Banning people from their sport is no longer means banning them from their leisure activity: it means depriving them of their livelihood and can be considered as ‘restraint of trade’ that can be challenged in the civil courts. There is also increasing evidence of double standards being applied by sports authorities.

For example pressure by sponsors of the Atlanta Olympic Games, who did not want to be associated with a ‘drugs Olympics’, led to B samples of urine being ‘lost’ and therefore athletes not found positive. Many drugs are training drugs and some states do not conduct tests outside of competition or provide notice to athletes of a forthcoming test. Some athletes in UK travel abroad in the winter for warm weather training and cannot be traced (e. g. living in a campervan in the Australian outback). The number of banned substances is said to be over 5000.

Many of these can be bought over the counter and without medical prescription in any supermarket as a cure to common ailments. Some of these substances cannot possibly enhance performance in some of the events and some are found in such minute substances that any advantage gained is doubtful. As a result many innocent sportsmen (and women) are deprived of their sport and livelihood. Due to the short time that a person has at the top level in sport and the length of time and money it takes to challenge and overturn a conviction in the courts it is not surprising that there is heated debate on the issue.

Above all the cost of policing an anti drug policy is astronomical. The reported cost of drug testing at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics is reported to be in excess of 4m dollars. Add to that the cost of drug testing in each state, and the knowledge that most drug takers are not caught, and it is no wonder that some people regard this cost to be put to better use by promoting grass roots sport. Rationale for drug-abuse in sport The widespread use of drugs in modern day sport and the difficulty in controlling drug abuse has led many people to question the purpose of sport itself.

Dubin (1990) states: “Have we lost track of what athletic competition is about? Is there too much emphasis by the public and the media on winning a gold medal in Olympic competition? ” This leads to a moral and ethical debate about sport and the use of drugs to enhance performance. The fundamental principle of sport is that competition should be fair and equal with no discrimination between people. This principle embodies some of humankind’s highest ideals. When sport is pursued for its own intrinsic sake and its rules are followed, sport is a worthwhile human activity.

When, on the other hand, sport is used for goals associated with extrinsic gain, and when the result is more important than the process, there is a danger than it becomes a means to an end and thereby corrupted. If one accepts the traditional ethos of sport as ‘equality and fair play’, then the use of unfair means (including the use of drugs) becomes a moral and ethical issue. When extrinsic goals become more important than intrinsic goals then the temptation to take unfair advantage over others becomes greater. The ‘win at all costs’ attitude exemplifies an attitude of mind, which is the very antithesis of sport.

The taking of performance-enhancing substances is not only illegal but also morally reprehensible in sport because it provides the user with an unfair advantage over others. By disregarding the rules sport loses its integrity. The ‘Sport Ethos’ and the use of drugs From the origins of contemporary sport in the 19th century a central tenet was ‘gentlemanly conduct’ and ‘fair play’. As the Olympic motto still (outdately? ) states “the taking part is more important than the winning”. Many people in sport today regard this ethos as essential to the meaning of sport and regret its erosion in contemporary sport.

The ‘professionalisation’ and ‘commercialisation’ of sport in the last 40 years has seen a gradual diminution of the traditional sport ethos and its replacement by a new sport ethos that values winning above everything else, even if it means doing so by unfair means. The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport has been justified in the new ‘sports ethos’: * The athlete makes sacrifices in the name of sport – In order to excel and make their sacrifices worthwhile athletes must ‘pay the price’ even if this may mean using deviant methods to ‘succeed’, including taking drugs.

The athlete strives for distinction – Winning symbolises distinction. Losing is tolerated only when it is part of the experience of learning to win. In order to reach the top deviant methods may be used and considered ‘legitimate’. * An athlete accepts risks – In order to reach the top and reap the rewards offered by excellence athletes accept the risks involved, including the risks associated with the use of drugs. * An athlete accepts no limits to performance – Medical science and technology will enhance natural performance. Many recent improvements in performance are the result of improvements in science, including the use of drugs.

Modern sport is so rich in rewards and esteem that many athletes follow the new sport ethos without questioning the risk to their own health and safety and without questioning the morality of their actions. Contemporary sport has become mass entertainment and society expects to be entertained by athletes advancing the frontiers of human performance/ Arguments about the use of drugs in sport * The ‘violation of rules’ argument – Sport is a practice governed by rules. Sport can only retain its integrity if those who take part adhere to the rules. The ‘violation of the rules’ argument is not only a ‘legal’ argument but also a ‘moral’ one.

An athlete entering into sport makes a tacit commitment to abide by the rules. Wanton disregard for the rules is dishonest and the antithesis to the values that are integral to sport (the traditional sport ethos). An athlete cannot morally agree to participate in sport and at the same time reject some of the conditions under which competition takes place. However one could question ‘whose rules are these? ‘ and ‘are they relevant to the new sport ethos today? ‘ Those who wish to return to the halcyon days of the past are considered to be dinosaurs out of touch with modern society. The ‘unfair advantage’ argument – The concept of fair play is the moral basis on which sport is predicated.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs gives users an unfair advantage over non-users. However there are many instances where an athlete has an advantage over others. Clearly some athletes have a natural advantage over others in terms of their level of skill and physical condition, others by their environment, their wealth, the level of support they receive, their equipment etc but these are considered acceptable advantages. The ‘moral ethos’ argument – The ‘moral ethos’ argument is based on the premise that the rules of sport are not merely functional but also moral. Athletes are expected to adhere to the rules and not to knowingly break them. The rules constitute the way in which the participants should behave if sport is to maintain its integrity.

To cheat, by intentionally breaking the rules, is to act immorally and the antithesis to the ethos of sport. However, many drugs are taken unintentionally or in such minute amounts as not to provide advantage. A liberal attitude to drugs – Some people argue that in a liberal society athletes should be allowed to make their own decisions about taking performance-enhancing drugs in the knowledge of the harmful effects they may have on their bodies. It is not illegal, for example, to use anabolic steroids and many of the banned substances are in everyday use in society. Governments permit other harmful drugs (e. g. tobacco and alcohol) and raise money on them through taxation. Why should athletes be banned from taking substances that are not illegal? However this argument is not acceptable to many people in sport.

In choosing to participate in sport an athlete becomes morally bound by the rules that govern it. To break the rules by taking performance-enhancing drugs not only gives an unfair advantage over others but also breaks faith with those athletes who do not take the performance-enhancing substance. The moral issue is one of honesty, a virtue that is fundamental to sport as a human activity. It involves a practice of conforming to rules whilst at the same time attempting to obtain unfair advantage over others. Such acts of dishonesty are not only unacceptably unfair but are also immoral.

The athlete who chooses to ‘cheat’ in this way corrupts the ethos of sport itself by placing its values in jeopardy. Controlling the use of drugs in sport Sports authorities are attempting to take the necessary steps to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport through the regulatory measures of testing athletes. However, the drug takers are frequently one step ahead of the drug testers, which questions the effectiveness of drug testing measures as well as their cost. There is also criticism of the testing procedures themselves.

The long-term solution to the elimination of drugs in sport lies in education and the re-introduction of the traditional sport ethos. * Coaches should not allow athletes to compete while injured and until certified ‘able to compete’ by an independent physician. * The goals of sports science should be reformed to focus on participation rather than performance. * Education must clearly indicate the health risks of taking performance-enhancing substances as well as the moral and ethical issues. * The contemporary ‘sport ethos’ must be questioned to eliminate deviance through over conformity to the ‘sport ethos’. The value systems that govern behaviour in sport must be questioned so that athletes who take performance-enhancing substances are not categorised as ‘heroes’ by the media and society. * The meaning of the ‘sport experience’ should be re-defined. Without these changes deviance in sport will continue to be a problem, which will eventually undermine sport as a valued human practice. Athlete as role model An argument in favour of banning athletes who take performance-enhancing substances is that they provide a negative role model for young people and encourage the taking of drugs.

Why should sport and drugs be singled out for this treatment? Nobody considers taking away musicians’ Gold Disc awards, or banning them from performing, because they were under the influence of drugs. If this were the case The Beatles would never have had a hit record or have recorded the Sargent Pepper album as they have admitted to being ‘stoned’ at the time. Only someone ‘stoned’ could have written Yellow Submarine or related Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to the LSD drug. Athletes are role models in their behaviour both within and outside sport.

Why not also ban athletes who are bad role models because they are alcoholics, drug addicts, conduct violent acts, beat up their wives or cheat in other ways in their sport? Unfortunately we see the effects of this behaviour by elite athletes on the younger population who consider it legitimate to behave in similar ways. We have examples in UK of parents of primary school children being banned from supporting their children at football matches because they incite their children to violent behaviour and are abusive of referees.

We see young children committing professional fouls, abusing referees and adopting a ‘win at all costs attitude’ that they have learned from their role models. There is also evidence of teenagers taking steroids in order to gain selection to the school team. Diffusion of performance-enhancing substances to recreational and non-sporting populations There is increasing evidence that the taking of performance-enhancing substances, particularly steroids, has diffused to the non-sporting population.

With the media publicising what steroids can do to enhance performance young males are now taking steroids as a recreational drug. There is evidence (University of Gloucestershire PhD thesis) of male strippers, kissograms and night-club bouncers taking steroids to enhance their bodies for economic reasons, Asian males taking steroids for protection against racist attacks and gay males to attract a partner. Most worrying is the increase in steroid use for psychological reasons among non-sporting males to improve body image, which is becoming a public health problem on a par with anorexia in young women.

The increasingly widespread use of steroids in a recreational context is the real worry and is becoming a public health issue. It matters little to me that a few elite athletes may be taking drugs to enhance their performance at the athletic spectacle they still call sport. As long as they know the health consequences of their actions and are not forced to take the substances without their knowledge (as in former DDR and contemporary China) there is little that can be done to control it. What is worrying is the use of these drugs by the non-sporting population. One solution might be to make the substances illegal.

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