Anti-Doping Policy: The Emperor's New Clothes

Morrison, Jo (2022). Anti-Doping Policy: The Emperor's New Clothes. MPhil thesis The Open University.



A sport or game is defined as a “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” with rules developed to define and shape the goal of the game, control the means of obtaining the goal, and ensure or restore fairness. Anti-doping policy establishes the rules surrounding the testing and sanction of athletes and others for actions related to a Prohibited List of substances and methods. Substances appear on the Prohibited List if they meet two of three criteria: (1) harmful or potentially harmful to an athlete’s health; (2) performance-enhancing or potentially performance-enhancing; and (3) in violation of the ‘Spirit of Sport.’ In this thesis I examine the philosophical justifications for anti-doping policy that are connected to these three criteria. While there is a lack of empirical evidence that appropriately used performance-enhancing substances are harmful, there is evidence that the lack of medical supervision and access to safe medications is causing and allowing harm. There is also a lack of evidence that the substances on the Prohibited List enhance performance, yet they are imbued with this property by their presence on the list. Concerns that performance-enhancing substance use by successful athletes is coercive misplace the coercive influence. It may be that the strongest coercive influence comes from the labeling of a substance as performance-enhancing regardless of its biological effects. Modern, elite sport is a massive commercial enterprise that may itself violate the best intentions of an ill-defined ‘Spirit of Sport.’ Anti-doping policy has evolved and narrowed to serve an ideological purpose and in doing so has become a threat to the health and wellbeing of all individuals involved in fitness and sport.

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