Views & Reviews Personal View

Testing athletes, and banning those who take drugs, is unjustifiable

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 22 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3521
  1. Sam Shuster, emeritus professor of dermatology, Newcastle University, UK
  1. sam{at}

How pleasant it will be to put aside the miseries of the economy and global warming, and indulge in the excitement of the London Olympic games. But how sad if this is spoilt by drug testing, public exposures, and destroyed athletic careers, when in the absence of a valid case against sports drugs this is illogical and immoral.

Sports training is hard, and for the supreme competition of the Olympics the effort has to be supreme; but why is help from drugs1 2 “cheating”—an unfair advantage from outside help rather than personal effort—when we allow specialised training equipment, sports psychologists, physiologists applying optimising monitors, electronic positioning of cyclists in relation to pedals and handlebars, and dieticians using foods and additives as drugs? What makes a covert team of sports specialists fair, and taking a pill cheating? Why is training in a low oxygen chamber acceptable but not erythropoietin?

Cheating—for example, tripping a competing runner—is confused with fairness; but in competitive sport you aim to win regardless, whether by personal application, help from others, or genetic good fortune. “Fairness” is for the level playing field of the looking glass world, where the faster you can …

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