Nowadays, the question of potential legalization of anabolic steroids is discussed in various scientific circles. Current paper deals with all main aspects of this issue evaluating the arguments for and against legalization. Legal issues, such as the access to free competition and equal rights of all sportsmen, are examined. In general, the critical analysis of various positions demonstrates that anabolic steroids as well as other performance enhancers should not be allowed because all sportsmen have to be in equal initial conditions, and all forms of illegal advantages should be strictly prohibited.
Should Performance Enhancers (Anabolic Steroids) Be Allowed in Sports?
The utilitarian arguments regarding potential advantages of steroids legalization are examined and their logical flaws are specified. Some broad sociological and economic aspects are present for the complex understanding of the situation, and the paper explains their relation to legal issues. In general, the paper contributes to understanding of sports law as it shows that no conflict between utilitarian arguments and basic individual rights and liberties exists.
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First of all, it is necessary to briefly outline the current status of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Nowadays, the use of steroids or other drugs is officially considered immoral. Therefore, it is strictly prohibited by all major sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee. The supporters of legalization claim that the use of drugs does not affect competition more than modern equipment that also creates advantages for some sportsmen (Atkinson).
However, such comparison is invalid for several reasons:
- Firstly, the supposed violation of law and rights of others in one area does not make such violations in other spheres moral.
- Secondly, the use of modern equipment really creates additional advantages for some sportsmen, but it is an example of fair competition because it is allowed by sports regulations and it does not violate the rights of others. At the same time, the use of drugs violates the rights of other sportsmen who follow regulations and thus creates unfair advantages.
The relevant aspect in this context is not whether some actions or procedures create potential advantages or not but rather their influence on the rights of other parties involved. The opposite position about prohibiting everything that creates any sort of additional advantages will lead to a contradiction as the whole training process and the essence of sports per se aims at demonstrating higher results than other participants (i.e. demonstrating one’s advantages). Thus, the factors that increase sportsmen’s results should not be prohibited on the basis of such positive impact. However, from this statement does not follow that all types of stimulators are performance enhancers.
One of main sports goals is demonstrating the highest achievements of human body and spirit. For example, viewers are interested not in high speed per se but in understanding what speed is attainable for individuals that follow the generally accepted rules. Consequently, the abolition of any restrictions will lead to the absence of sports ideas and its substitution by machines’ competition. Thus, the decision about the potential regulations and prohibitions should be based on the structure of all participants’ rights.
As the International Olympic Committee and other similar organizations always explicitly state which drugs are prohibited, it demonstrates the rules for all sportsmen and established the boundaries of fair competition. Another argument of supporters of legalization refers to the empirical fact that performance enhancers have been using throughout history even in Ancient Times. Thus, they claim that as enhancers cannot be completely avoided, they should be legalized. However, this statement contains a logical error, as well. The fact of regulations’ violation does not make such violations desirable. For example, stealing is also observed throughout history, however, it does not make it legal or socially desirable. Although there is a fraction of people willing to obtain unfair advantages, such practices should not be legalized. On the contrary, they may help to differentiate within the whole set of participants and exclude those sportsmen who violate the rights of others.
Another possible argument in favor of legalization refers to the fact that doping control is very expensive and these funds may be used more effectively (Atkinson). However, it seems to be unsupported, as well. It is correct that control efforts (that include not only doping control during competition) lead to additional expenses. Moreover, such funds could be directed to other fields if the problem of unfair competition did not exist. However, it exists and requires additional controlling efforts. Using an analogy, it may be stated that the absence of criminal activities could allow reducing expenses associated with police activities. At the same time, the existence of such expenses under the current conditions does not seem unreasonable.
Anti-doping authorities often explain that all sportsmen should have equal opportunities. However, this statement should be correctly interpreted. The main idea is not removing all sources of inequality (as it is impossible even theoretically, as well as it negates the essence of sports competition) but respecting the rights of all participants. In this way, the boundaries of fair competition are identical for all people. It corresponds to the meaning of fair competition.
An additional ethical aspect should be clarified. Nowadays, professional sports demonstrate the highest results of the human body without any artificial performance enhancers. Thus, people willing to improve or at least maintain their health may participate in professional sports. However, it will be impossible if anabolic steroids are legalized. As they artificially increase one’s sports results, it will be evident a priori that professional sportsmen will have significant health problems in the future. Therefore, a large number of potential sportsmen will refuse to select this occupation. Moreover, viewers prefer understanding professional sport as a tool of promoting a healthy lifestyle, and the negation of health in the initial instructions will not guarantee the necessary interest within the population.
If performance enhancers are allowed, it will almost exclude the majority of developing countries from competition. At the present moment, the countries with high standard of living have some advantages; however, other countries also demonstrate significant results in some sports spheres. If legalization is adapted, the financial factor will become the main one and the global interest to sports will decline as only several the most financially successful countries will compete in all kinds of sports. The International Olympic Committee declares that sport should be promoted all over the world and the realization of this principle may become problematic in case of legalization (Werner & Hatton).
Thus, it is evident that there is no contradiction between utilitarian arguments that try to satisfy the interests of all parties involved and the legal perspective. If rights of all sportsmen are protected, the general social satisfaction is maximized, as well. Therefore, it is reasonable to concentrate on expanding the principles of fair competition to all spheres, as well as providing the strict control over the fulfillment of these regulations. It is possible to use random statistical selection for doping control in some minor sports events while during the Olympic Games and various world championships all participants should pass the test procedures. Current system of double-testing seems to be reasonable as it reduces the probability of error to almost zero. As all sportsmen understand that any violations may be immediately detected, they will modify their behavior accordingly and the temptation to use drugs will decrease.
Although sports committees cannot determine the specific actions of all sportsmen, they may affect their incentive structures that indirectly influence their actual behavior (Donahue et al.). It seems that the number of regulations should be minimal, but they should be adequately enforced. In particular, sports committees should outline the list of prohibited drugs and make this information available for all interested people. Then, the effective control systems should be introduced and the main attention should be paid to such sports events as the Olympic Games. Sports authorities should not make any value or moral judgments but be entirely concentrated on the legal perspective. All moral conclusions may be formulated by the public and it will lead to higher sports popularity worldwide.
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The advocates of legalization also claim that under the present conditions all famous sportsmen experience some forms of uncertainty and suspicion from the public. It occurs due to the fact that both viewers and officials want to receive the results of doping tests that will confirm the absence of any prohibited drugs in the blood or body of a given sportsman (Atkinson). Thus, the advocates of this position suggest that if anabolic steroids are legalized, no additional confirmation is needed, and the winners may receive their fame immediately.
However, it is necessary to examine this position in detail:
- Firstly, the goal of sports committees is not maximizing the psychological satisfaction of the winners at any price but ensuring the proper following of all generally approved requirements.
- Secondly, it is unclear whether this satisfaction would actually increase as most people prefer winning in fair competition.
- Thirdly, sports fans usually see sport events as an example of equal opportunities (at least, in the legal sense).
Thus, the legalization of steroids may negatively affect their interest and ultimate demand for such events (Ozdemir et al.). As a result, sports competitions may become less prestigious and may generate fewer amounts of money and other privileges (sponsor contracts, advertizing proposals, the overall reputation in society, etc.) for the winners. Taking into account all these considerations, it may be expected that all participants (and especially the future champions) are interested in fair competition and equal standards for all sportsmen.
It seems that regulations and sports instructions should not create additional risks and threats for sportsmen. The nature of modern professional sport is such that substantial health risks are present in any case. However, their amount should not be artificially increased. It is evident that legalization of anabolic steroids will make the traditional (without using any drugs) winning of any serious championships absolutely impossible. Nowadays, many sportsmen are examples and role models for young people, but it seems that the situation may change if the public is aware that all champions use steroids. Therefore, the potential legalization may have negative consequences for the US society in general.
Theoretically, there is another alternative to the issue under consideration. For example, two leagues may exist. The first one will operate on the traditional basis and anabolic steroids and other performance enhancers will be prohibited. In the second league, the use of drugs will be legal and sportsmen from different leagues will compete only within their leagues. Such proposal is legally coherent as no one is forced to use drugs and is free to choose the optimal alternative from his/her point of view. The viewers’ rights are protected as well because they may choose any league they like and the use of steroids in one of them is known from the very beginning.
Although this option is possible from the legal perspective, it is not highly plausible that these two leagues will emerge in the near future. Such separation will not allow economizing substantial financial resources as strict doping control in one of the leagues will be still needed. Moreover, some expenses will even increase as it will be necessary to organize much more events and forums for both leagues. However, the consumer demand for these events is limited and the profitability rates may decrease. As sports fans prefer determining the only champion in each kind of sport (that will be impossible in the new format), it is not likely that this idea will be supported by the public. Various health-oriented organizations may explicitly argue against any sports projects that allow using doping. It may negatively affect the reputation of sports organizations and lead to numerous social conflicts in sport. Thus, under the current state of the consumer demand and public preferences, it is unlikely that the idea of two separate leagues may be realized in the actual practice.
The advocates of legalization also suggest that it may help to solve problems of the Hall of Fame voting. Even the smallest doping suspicion of an athlete may not allow him/her being selected. Therefore, some experts propose to legalize drugs to make this process more clear and timely. However, the problem of determining the best representatives of some profession exists not only in sports and it is important to verify all relevant aspects in order to guarantee the correspondence of a given candidate to the existing rules. For example, the works of all scientists are verified in relation to their originality; if any plagiarism issues are found, it leads to serious negative consequences for a given scientist. In fact, he/she cannot expect to receive any significant reward in the future due to his/her reputation as a result of such issues.
The similar principles may be observed in sports. Federations and public in general wish to have evidences that a given athlete follows all recommendations and does not violate the rights of other participants. Although such test procedures require time and financial expenses, they are the necessary attribute of any fair competition (Eber). It seems that the function of the Hall of Fame is to praise the most talented and successful sportsmen rather than facilitating the process of inclusion of potential candidates.
The effectiveness of doping control depends on the actual implementation of the main regulations. There are two main options that exist in this context. The first one is large government involvement. The second one is independent regulations of corresponding sports leagues. The supporters of the first initiative suggest that the government may be more efficient in enforcing all relevant rules and even develop new legal obligations for the citizens.
However, it seems that the second option may generate much better results for several reasons:
- Firstly, the government operates on the basis of tax-collected funds. It means that the redistribution of wealth takes place and involuntary actions are observed. The legal and sociological theories show that social systems work more productively if they are organized on a completely voluntary basis.
- Secondly, independent leagues are better aware of all internal problems and are more responsive to the external challenges. The government may use a large number of experts, but their overall coordination will not be based on the profit-and-loss system and higher bureaucratization may emerge (Showalter).
- Thirdly, independent leagues are interested in timely decisions of the existing problems and try to find the most rational decisions from the social and economic point of view.
At the same time, government agencies do not have strong incentive structures for searching timely solutions and their decisions are mostly based on the political desirability rather than economic calculation.
Thus, it seems that government involvement in this process should be minimized as it negatively affects the realization of basic sports principles. Unfortunately, it is problematic to completely separate sport from politics as during the Olympic Games and other forums sportsmen represent not only them and their team but the country in general. Therefore, some political pressure from national governments is often present. However, it is reasonable to limit government presence in all sports spheres as it negatively affects the implementation of principles of fair competition (Showalter). Moreover, the prohibition of anabolic drugs may be effectively enforced without the government participation in this process.
As these regulations may be introduced by independent leagues, penalties may be different in various kinds of sports. At the same time, it does not constitute serious problems because each kind of sports has its specifics that should be reflected in corresponding rules. The most important thing is the recognition of the illegal nature of anabolic steroids and the understanding of introducing corresponding penalties for those sportsmen who try to receive unfair competitive advantages.
It seems that not all sports federations pay the necessary attention to the problem of doping. In particular, soccer and some other team sports federations do not suggest it to be this issue their main responsibility. Although the net effect of doping in team sports seems to be less than in individual ones, the respect to other sportsmen’s rights should be maintained in all sports spheres. Thus, soccer and other sports federations should ensure the fulfillment of all fair competition requirements. It will increase the sports’ popularity among people worldwide and may generate additional revenues for federations.
The close analysis of various arguments regarding the potential legalization of anabolic steroids has shown that they are unsupported and have substantial logical errors. All athletes should have equal rights and follow the generally accepted rules that are developed by the corresponding federations. The analogy of anabolic steroids with the modern equipment is incorrect because equipment’s advantages are not based on the violation of other people’s rights.
Although doping control is expensive, it is the necessary element of expenses because all sports fans are interested in fair competition. Their demand for sports events is based on the assumption that all participants have equal opportunities. If this assumption is not followed, many viewers will shift their demand to other spheres. The potential legalization of performance enhancers will create serious problems for developing countries and will reduce the overall level of competition. The analysis demonstrates that there is no contradiction between the basic legal rights and utilitarian arguments. Sportsmen may be accepted to the Hall of Fame only when their doping tests are thoroughly evaluated and it is correct as only those athletes who follow all regulations may receive the chance of being selected.
It is determined that the control over the fulfillment of anti-doping requirements should be delegated to independent leagues rather than national governments. Sports leagues are better aware of the local situation and are highly motivated in finding the most timely and efficient solution. Some differences among various sports federations may exist, but all of them should share the basic principles of doping control and penalties. It is especially relevant for soccer and other team sports federations. In any case, the use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancers should not be allowed in sport.