Enhancement in sport

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L159-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

4 Ethical considerations related to enforcement

Besides the question of whether to place restrictions on the use of enhancements in sport, there are important ethical questions concerning how to enforce those restrictions that are in place.

One question is whether current levels of funding for anti-doping policies are justified. If the motivation for anti-doping policies is primarily health-based, then this would raise the question of whether there are alternative (and politically feasible) ways of spending these funds that would more effectively promote health. If the motivation for anti-doping policies is primarily fairness-based, then this would raise the question of whether the importance of increasing the fairness sporting events (assuming that anti-doping policies even have this effect, which was challenged in the previous section) outweighs the tangible benefits that could come from alternative uses of the money. The question of funding is particularly salient because much of the funding for antidoping comes from government budgets (including small contributions from developing countries) (WADA, 2019a).

Another question is whether the liability rules for anti-doping violations are justified. According to the standard of ‘strict liability’ that is used by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), ‘an anti-doping rule violation occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in [an athlete’s] bodily specimen’ regardless of whether the athlete’s use of the substance was intentional. Although athletes are exempted from punishment if it is determined that they bear ‘no fault or negligence’, this is an extraordinarily difficult standard to meet; WADA explains that an athlete would bear no fault or negligence if they were ‘sabotaged by a competitor’ who spiked their drink with a banned substance, but would be negligent if they took a ‘mislabeled or contaminated … nutritional supplement’ (WADA, 2018).

Another question is whether present punishments are proportionate. Under WADA’s Anti-doping Code, athletes whose banned substance use is determined to be intentional are suspended for four years (for a first offence), while athletes whose doping is unintentional are suspended for up to two years (depending on their ‘degree of fault’). Recent research has revealed that these punishments (and the social opprobrium that usually accompanies them) take a very heavy toll on athletes’ mental health (Piffaretti, 2011; Georgiadis and Papazoglou, 2014).

One possibility is that present punishments are disproportionately harsh. Perhaps suspended athletes experience more suffering than they deserve (or more suffering than they are morally liable to befall) – especially in cases of accidental use. Another possibility is that punishments are too light. Perhaps we should increase the severity of punishments, in order to deter doping more effectively.

Another question is how to balance anti-doping aims with athletes’ privacy rights. Some top athletes are required to submit detailed information on their whereabouts, including where they stay overnight, for every day of the year (so that they can be tested without advance notice) (WADA, 2019b). And drug tests themselves are often perceived by athletes as an affront to their privacy; urine tests involve having a stranger watch you pee (Elbe and Overbye, 2014).

Citing this article:
Thau, Tena. 4 Ethical considerations related to enforcement. Enhancement in sport, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L159-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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