Drugs in sport debate: Proposer’s closing statement

by Julian Savulescu

At the beginning of this debate, I said doping would be a part of the
World Cup. Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer playing today,
will star in the line up for Argentina against Germany in the Quarter
Finals. At the age of 15, Spanish football team Barcelona paid for him
to receive growth hormone to make him taller to "treat growth hormone
deficiency." It was likely this was an example of human enhancement and
doping. He is now 5 foot 7 inches – hardly a midget. Still, people love
to see him play. And it would be a tragedy if he were expelled because
his height was now "unnatural".


Height varies across people.
Some people are just short. Disease is defined in statistical terms, two
standard deviations from the mean, with about 2% of people having
'disease'. They are then entitled to medical treatment – it is not
enhancement. A person who is 1cm taller than the cut off is arbitrarily
defined as being normal but short. One centrimetre less and that person
could have got growth hormone to treat a 'disease'.

Why should
the balance of excellences be based on what nature happened to give
individuals and how we happen to statistically define disease and
normality? Even if Messi did in fact have a deficiency, why should that
biological accident mean he is entitled to use growth hormone to become
taller but a person a fraction above that arbitary cut off not be
allowed to use it? Surely what matters is whether the change still
leaves sufficient space for a display of physical excellence, mental
courage and determination.

The simple fact is that doping has no
necessary connection with reduction in the expression of physical
excellence or mental application.

Of course doping might go
against the spirit of sport. If we created a giant footballer whose legs
spanned the width of the pitch, who could just block any opposing
player, that would change the nature of football and be incredibly
boring. But giving growth hormone to make shorter players a bit taller
is doping but has no such effect.

Does Messi lack sportsmanship
because he took growth hormone as an adolescent? No. He seems as fine a
sportsman as anyone else who plays the game today. Doping has no
necessary connection with lack of sportsmanship. What is unsportsmanlike
is cheating. But that is more easily dealt with by relaxing doping
controls. Bloodgate and the Henry scandal are examples of cheating. But
who knows how many footballers will be blood doping in the finals. 25%?
50%? Or 100%, like Floyd Landis' team in the Tour? The referee is, in
effect, blindfolded.

I have argued that relaxing the total ban on
doping would be safer, fairer, reduce natural inequality and provide
for a better spectacle. And it can be consistent with the spirit of
sport. It is time to move into the 21st century with sport and take a
rational approach to the use of biological sciences in sport.

[Don't forget to vote in the debate. Voting closes on 9th July]

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