Pro-doping arguments refuted

© November 2014 Paul Cooijmans


Who plays a game must abide by the rules of that game; breaking the rules constitutes cheating, and the cheat is typically disqualified or otherwise punished. In case of disqualification, the first honest participant in the results (the first who did not cheat) naturally wins the game. This is logical, righteous, and irrefutable.

Many games — sports, in particular — address the practice of "doping" in their rules, forbidding the use of a number of substances. The motivation behind such rules lies in the belief that doping spoils the competition and/or harms the health of athletes. Whether doping actually improves performance and/or endangers one's health is not the primary question; what matters is that doping regulations, like any rules, must be respected. When one enters a competition, one therewith agrees to honour the rules. There is no way out of this; no excuse exists that can be validly used afterwards for breaking the rules.

What one sees time and again, however, is that athletes, medical doctors, and others come forward with arguments to excuse the use of doping. A representative sample from those arguments is addressed below.

Arguments excusing the use of doping answered

It is not cheating because everyone does it, so there is a level playing field

This profoundly malicious argument was used, inter alia, by cyclist Lance Armstrong during his "confession" with Oprah Winfrey. The argument is false because of the following reasons, each in themselves sufficient:

  1. Even if "everyone does it" and the "playing field" is level, that does not take away from the fact that the rules are broken, with implications as explained in the first paragraph of the Introduction;
  2. The fact that "everyone does it" does not make it right; if that were so, such diverse wrongs as dumping garbage in the forest, the Kristallnacht, and speeding would all be perfectly in order; this is a clear example of a non sequitur, of something that does not follow;
  3. Most likely, it is not true that "everyone does it" (dope), and there have always been participants who abided by the rules; those have been wronged, and among them are the real winners.

Do notice that athletes who use this argument therewith demonstrate a complete lack of realization of having done wrong; they are convinced they deserve the prizes they won. But they do not.

With doping too, the best wins

To be the best, the first thing one needs to do is play by the rules. Whoever breaks them and thus cheats is naturally inferior to all who abide by the rules. It would be an unheard-off perversion of the concept "best" to call a fraud "best". The best is always the first non-cheat in the results. This argument is sometimes phrased as [some doping user who won] would have been the best without doping too. The same response applies then, and it can be added that the act of doping constitutes an admission that one considers oneself incapable of winning without it.

With doping too, you have to train hard to win

No doubt, but this does not contradict the principle stated in the first paragraph of the Introduction in any way. It is a non-argument.

Doping will not turn a non-talented person into a winner

True, but does not contradict the principle stated in the first paragraph of the Introduction. Another non-argument.

Doping aids physical recovery when training or racing hard

Possibly, but that does not contradict the principle stated in the first paragraph of the Introduction in any way. If one really wanted to employ doping for recovery (rather than for cheating) one would have to take steps in order to change the rules to allow that. But utterers of this non-argument do not take such steps; their goal is to cheat, and to excuse their cheating afterwards, rather than to aid recovery.

You can not win the Tour de France on a cheese sandwich

Meant with this is "you can not win without doping". But yes you can, for if no one cheats, the winner will be one who did not dope, and if there are cheats, those must be disqualified and the winner will still be one who did not dope. Either way, the winner will have done it "on a cheese sandwich", that is, without doping.

Doping makes the competition more attractive because it raises the level of performance

Possibly, but this does not take away from the principle stated in the first paragraph of the Introduction. If one really wanted competition with doping because of its supposed greater attraction, one would have to take steps to change the rules accordingly. But utterers of this non-argument tend to not take such steps; their goal is to gain an unfair advantage, and not to make the competition more attractive for the public. In fact, I recommend organizing separate competitions for doping users and non-users, and monitor for some years which competition receives the greatest appreciation from the audience. I suspect it will be the latter, but I may be wrong.

Doping does not help but is merely a placebo

As already mentioned in the second paragraph of the Introduction, it is irrelevant whether or not doping "helps". It is cheating by the mere fact that it violates the rules.

If you win from behind the jury table — that is, after disqualification of one or more frauds — you have not really won

On the contrary, and as explained in the first paragraph of the Introduction, the first non-fraud, the first honest participant, is the only real winner. There is nothing dishonourable about winning after disqualification of doping users in front of you.

If you want to disqualify all doping users, you will have to rewrite the results of all major competitions of the past decades

That is indeed exactly what must happen, and pointing this out in no way makes doping right or implies that doping winners are valid winners.