Saturday 16 November 2013

University of Essex students talk about drugs in sport

I had my annual discussion with my final year sports & exercise science undergraduate class about the ethics of drugs in sport. Last year they surprised me with how much they thought elite athletes should be role models and not even dabble in recreational drugs (see [1]). Maybe this was a result of a 2012 post-Olympic glow because the class of 2013 included a number of more libertarian individuals who favoured a laissez faire “anything goes” policy. We had an interesting debate around what was the meaning of “natural” versus unnatural sport; kind of an Essex version of the differing philosophies of human enhancement pronounced by Michael Sandel or Julian Savelescu – see for example [2].

Some of the students suggested that the spectacle of sport itself was by definition enhanced if times were quicker and the distances thrown longer. I pointed out that it was all relative and maybe it mattered how you achieved your goals. I also noted that if it was only about absolute times, not relative performances, there was no point in watching women’s sport as they were always going to be slower than the men. I am not sure I won this debate (they were tough arguers!), though it was perhaps noticeable that the female students were more anti doping, on average, than the men (I think not surprising given the greater concerns over women’s health with steroid doping).

Anyway, as always, I was left with much food for thought after this session. Let’s hope they argue as well in their essays on the scientific future of doping I am about to mark!

[1]  Cooper, C. E. (2013) Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat: The science behind drugs in sport, OUP, Oxford.  Preface to the paperback edition

[2]  Savulescu, J., and Bostrom, N., (Eds.) (2009) Human Enhancement, Oxford University Press.   See introduction (Savulescu) and Chapter 4 (Sandel).