International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 32, Issue 1, Spring 2018

Sigmund Loland
Pages 87-100

Sport, Performance-enhancing Drugs, and the Art of Self-imposed Constraints

Should the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) be banned in sport? A proper response to this question depends upon ideas of the meaning and value of sport. To a certain extent, sport is associated with ideal values such as equality of opportunity, fair play, performance and progress. PED use is considered contrary to these values. On the other hand, critics see sport as an expression of non-sustainable and competitive individualism that threatens human welfare and development. PED use is considered a logical consequence of these values. I challenge both views as simplistic and inadequate. I develop what I refer to as the normative structure of sport consisting of self-imposed constraints at three levels: in the formal rules, in norms for fair play, and in the interpretation of athletic excellence as a morally relevant instantiation of human excellence. I argue that the question of a ban on PED should be discussed at the third level and depends upon interpretations of athletic excellence as a form of human excellence. I conclude that, in the current situation of elite sport, proponents of a ban on PED seem to have the strongest arguments.