Another massive scandal about the use of drugs in sport has broken out recently with the spotlight on the US sprinter Justin Gatlin and some guy who rides a bike whose name I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up.

But just what is the problem with sportsmen and women using certain substances to enhance their performance? Why are some chemicals banned but many other chemicals perfectly acceptable to boost performance? Some commentators claim that using drugs gives one sportsman an “unfair advantage” over another. But such an argument is a tad absurd. A drug can only give an “unfair” advantage by virtue of the fact that it is banned. If the drugs in question weren’t banned then every competitor could use them if they wish, thus removing the possibility of “unfair” advantage. Of course there will still be advantageous effects of one sportsman using a drug whilst his competitor doesn’t, but this happens in all other areas of sport. Some competitors have better track shoes, coaches, dieticians, money, facilities etc. than their opponents, yet no one ever refers to this as an “unfair” advantage. Take Formula One racing – some guys have vastly superior cars, but no one complains much about this fairly obvious advantage as being in any way “unfair.”

A second argument is that some drugs are banned because they are bad for an athletes health. But this isn’t necessarily true. Some of the drugs aren’t necessarily bad, and many are actually naturally occurring chemicals which the body makes to some degree anyway (testosterone, for instance). Even if the drugs are in some way “bad” for health then it would still be the athletes choice whether or not to risk their use. Isn’t a bit nanny-ish to dictate to rational adults what they can and can’t put into their bodies? Not to mention the fact that some sports are surely bad for health: boxing can’t be good, and muscle tears, broken bones, sprains, slipped discs, and many other conditions are frequent occurrences in most sports. Sport is a dangerous business. Should we start banning some of them because of the dangers to health that they inherently involve?

I’m not against performance enhancing drugs in any sport. As a spectator all I’m really interested in is seeing people run faster, jump further and higher, throw further, and swim at sword-fish speeds. I long to see the day that earmuffs are provided in the Olympic stadium to protect from the sonic booms of the track events. I look forward to the days when the only sand pit big enough for the long jump is the Sahara. Roll on the days when the athletes from the Middle East are withdrawn from competing because their countries need them to launch long distance rockets at each other.

What a spectacle this would be. In the early days of the Olympics the games were venerated and the competitors treated like heroes, risking their lives (which were frequently lost in wrestling events and chariot races) in the pursuit of excellence. Might not allowing the use of drugs help us recapture that spirit?

Stephen Graham

PS…Kids: Don’t take drugs. OK? Drugs are bad. OK?