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The Illusion of Fairness in Sports March 17, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement, Sports.
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With all the various doping scandals going on in the sporting world right now the word fairness gets thrown around alot.  The idea of fairness in sports is something that is drilled into most of us at a young age.  The idea of sports as a “level playing field,” where no one takes the short cut and everyone succeeds based on their grit, determination and natural talent is appealing to most people.  Unfortunately, it’s also hypocritical and counter-intuitive.  Allowing athletes to use performance enhancers would actually make sports more fair for reasons I will explain below.  Before we get to why athletes should be allowed to use these substances let’s deal with the arguments why they should not.

The objections to the use of performance enhancing substance can be boiled down to two general positions: these substances are dangerous and should therefore be banned, or these substances give some athletes an unfair advantage and should therefore be banned.  As to the first, though as a general rule I think people should be able to do with (and put into) their body as they see fit, when it comes to athletics I agree with this position.  The ultimate end to transhumanism is to make humans stronger, smarter and healthier.  Using substances that give short term boosts to performance but in the long run destroy the body is counter to this goal.  In addition, making harmful substances legal puts some athletes in a position where they must choose between their health and their career, a choice they should not be forced to make.

As to the second objection, it should be obvious at this point that I don’t agree with it.  Saying these substances are an unfair advantage is a poor argument for one simple reason: sports are not fair.  To use myself as an example, I’m 5’9″ and about 160 pounds.  I will never make it into the NFL and neither will most of the men in America.  It doesn’t matter how hard we work or how much practice we put in.  The simple simple fact is that most people are not lucky enough to be born with the natural gifts to become an NFL football player.  Is that fair?  Is it fair that a roll of the genetic dice largely determines who has the athletic ability to become a world class athlete?  No, frankly it is not, and those who were lucky enough to be born with the right genes possess an unfair advantage over those who don’t.  Which brings us to the reasons for allowing athletes to use performance enhancers.

For starters, allowing athletes to use performance enhancers would actually help to make sports more fair.  By eliminating most, and at some point all, differences in physical ablility we can make it so that the only thing which determines a persons success is their effort, their drive, how much time and practice they put in to perfecting their skills, all the things that people say they want to preserve in sports.  Secondly, attempting to restrict what people can and can’t put into their bodies represents an invasion of privacy and an attempt by government and society to legislate standards of behavior.  Not only is this a morally wrong position, it’s also a terribly unsucessful one (just look at the war on drugs, prohibition, and the number of doping scandals in sports to see how successful we have been at outlawing goods) and does nothing to ensure the safety of the athletes.  A better system would be to allow athletes to dope while having systems in place to ensure the safe use of performance enhancers, similar to the idea of legalising currently illegal drugs while having programs in place to help addicts and others under the influence.

In short, the effects of outlawing performance enhancers have repercusions far beyond the sporting world.  They go to the heart of whether or not people have the right to own bodies or whether others (government, church, society) have the right to determine what a person can and can’t do with themselves.

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