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|Should Drugs Be Allowed In Sport?|
Corriere della Sera - August 2nd 2008
Technology plays a part in virtually every sport. We know there have to be rules about what materials are used in tennis rackets and golf clubs, about what type of engines and other equipment are allowed in Formula One racing cars, and that as the years pass the technology improves. So why is there so much fuss about the use of pharmaceutical technology to improve the performance of the human body, especially during the Olympic Games? Drugs are one of the great developments of modern times. It is na´ve to think that sports stars can be persuaded or prevented from exploiting them.
It would also be na´ve to think that Olympic sports, or any other contest, could be operated with no rules at all. And as soon as the rules have been written, people will be trying to find ways to get around them, to gain some sort of technological advantage. Cheating is an inevitable part of human life. The trick is to avoid getting caught, of course. The problem with modern sport, especially the field and track events of athletics, is that it has become tempting to believe that the difference between winners and losers has become not the ability to run or jump but the ability to avoid detection.
The reason, surely, is that the rules are too restrictive; and that by being written in such a restrictive way they have become rather arbitrary. For example, it is legal to spend time at high altitudes in order to increase the amount of red cells in the blood, but illegal to do so by means of blood transfusions.
The rules should be broader, with an objective of permitting the creative use of medical technology rather than trying to eliminate it. Substances should be banned only if they pose considerable and proven dangers to health. Critics of this liberal approach will argue that spectators will find sport less attractive if they think that performances are being enhanced artificially. But this too is na´ve. One of the attractions of sports stars is that they are exceptional, they are different from ordinary people. To that extent, they are already artificial. As long as the contests between these extraordinary creatures are tense and exciting, the spectators will still come.